An “unusual increase” in RSV is contributing to strained capacity at hospitals in and around Greater Boston.

An electron micrograph of respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV. CDC via AP

Citing an “unusual increase” in respiratory illness that has hospital and ER capacity stretched thin, three Massachusetts physician groups are calling on the public for help. 

Physicians across Massachusetts are seeing a spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), particularly in children, according to a joint statement from Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. Ted Calianos, Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians President Dr. Emily Chin, and Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Mary Beth Miotto. 

RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, and most people recover in a week or two, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the virus can cause more serious illness in infants and older adults; RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 in the U.S., the CDC notes. 

In Massachusetts, the five-week average of RSV cases detected by PCR tests jumped from 63.4 on Nov. 13, 2021, to more than 296.3 on Nov. 12, 2022, according to CDC data

RSV is contributing to strained capacity at hospitals in and around Greater Boston, with some needing to transfer children to hospitals out of state or postpone elective procedures to free up beds.

“Our level of concern has been elevated to the point at which we are compelled to share and recommend mitigation measures that can help to prevent illness,” Calianos, Chin, and Miotto said.

They continued: “This will not only lessen the burden on our over-stressed health care system, which is especially important as we approach the holiday season, but will also reduce interruptions to in-person learning and other children’s activities that can result from outbreaks caused by viral infections.”

The trio recommended vaccinating all children over the age of 6 months against influenza and COVID-19 — with COVID-19 boosters for children older than 5 — and practicing frequent hand hygiene.  

Sick children and adolescents should not go to school, daycare, or social gatherings until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, Calianos, Chin, and Miotto said.

“Anyone gathering in crowded indoor spaces, including children who are symptomatic, should consider wearing a mask,” they advised.

Families should contact their pediatrician or health care provider if they think their child needs medical care, according to the statement.


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