PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon Health and Science University is warning families of the possibility of an early season for respiratory syncytial virus, a virus that can be particularly dangerous to children and other sensitive groups of people. 

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, usually peaks between December and February, but physicians are seeing early cases of it in 2022. 

At OHSU, doctors say the spike is being fueled by changes in weather and the return to school and other indoor activities. 

Viral respiratory illnesses generally don’t result in hospitalization, but in dozens of states across the U.S., hospitals are seeing a higher number of children being admitted due to RSV. 

By definition, RSV season hasn’t begun yet in Oregon. 

The CDC defines the RSV season onset after two consecutive weeks when the mean positivity rate of antigen RSV tests is 10% or higher or when the positivity rate for PCR tests is 3% or higher. 

The week of October 16-22 was Oregon’s first week with test positivity rates above these percentages. Oregon Health Authority will release the next weekly RSV report on Wednesday and that will determine if RSV season is officially underway in the state. 

Dr. Judith A. Guzman-Cottrill, a professor of pediatrics at OHSU, said during the pandemic lockdowns, babies and young children were protected from common illnesses and as restrictions eased, their immune systems might not have been as prepared to fight the new viruses they were exposed to. 

This might explain the increase in infections and hospitalizations in 2022. 

She said OHSU is monitoring RSV cases closely. 

“Caring for a sick child can be distressing, and we want to assure parents that RSV is a common childhood virus. Most cases can be treated at home, but those few children who do require hospitalization receive supportive care and fully recover,” Guzman-Cottrill said. 

She said the best thing parents can do is continue to practice good health and hygiene, including frequent handwashing, avoiding contact with anyone who is sick and staying up to date on all vaccines. 

Most cases of RSV are mild and resolve at home within a few weeks. However, OHSU clinicians say it’s important to understand RSV symptoms and how it’s treated. 

People infected with RSV typically show symptoms within four to six days after they’re infected. Symptoms usually include a runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever or wheezing. 

Serious symptoms that might require emergency medical treatment include trouble breathing, trouble eating due to rapid breathing, wheezing, severe dehydration or lethargy. 

Parents who think their child is infected with RSV should make sure their child is eating well, sleeping well and staying hydrated. Over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers can help manage the symptoms. 

For infected infants, parents might need to suction their nasal secretions and parents should call their child’s health care provider for guidance if their child starts showing serious symptoms. 

The people at greatest risk for severe illness from RSV include young infants, especially those 6 months and younger, and children younger than 2 who have chronic conditions or weakened immune systems. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.