By Capt. Andrea Hurst | Army Public Health Nursing
There has been an increase in non-COVID-19 respiratory illness both in the state and nationwide, particularly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. With the ongoing pandemic and the upcoming flu season, it will be important to monitor children for symptoms of respiratory illness and exclude them from school and child care programs to prevent the spread of disease.
Symptoms of RSV infection include fever, cough, runny nose, sneezing and wheezing, and typically develop four to six days after exposure. The virus is spread through droplets from coughing, sneezing or direct contact with nasal secretions and surfaces contaminated with the virus. It can lead to more severe illnesses such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, especially in infants and young children. Similar to the flu, RSV season in Colorado occurs during late fall, winter and early spring.
COVID-19 mitigation measures such as face masks, social distancing, handwashing, school and child care center closures has likely contributed to low numbers of RSV and flu infection this past season. But the lack of exposure to these viruses has made the community more susceptible to infection this summer. There have been at least 25 cases of RSV infection and four cases of flu across Fort Carson in the past month. Five out of the 25 children diagnosed with RSV have been hospitalized.
Moreover, COVID-19 vaccines are only available to children between 12-17 years old, and less than 40% of this age group is vaccinated at this time. This places children under 12 as well as those who are unvaccinated at greater risk of illness, particularly when the COVID-19 Delta variant is easily spread to others.
It will be critical to consider the current circulation of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in the community throughout the school year. Wearing face masks, social distancing and handwashing can help protect against respiratory illness. Other strategies to prevent the spread of disease include:
- Testing: Be seen by a primary care doctor. Any child or Family member with symptoms of respiratory illness should not only be tested for COVID-19 but for other pathogens such as influenza and RSV. This is especially important if the sick individual has a known exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, flu or RSV. It is possible to be infected with more than one respiratory virus, particularly in group settings such as school and child care.
- Keep sick children home: Consider keeping children home while sick until all symptoms, not just fever, have resolved. Household members should minimize their exposure to the sick individual. Practice proper handwashing and disinfect commonly used surfaces and items in the home. In the event of a COVID-19 positive Family member, follow local isolation and quarantine guidance.
- Communicate with child care centers and schools: Notify child care providers and schools of any illness in the home as well as test results. This prompts them to implement their own established mitigation strategies to reduce the spread of illness within their respective institutions. They will also provide Families guidance as to when children can return to school or child care.
- Getting vaccinated: Individuals 12 years and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Also, flu vaccines will be available in the fall. Contact a primary care clinic for more information about COVID-19 and flu vaccination.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and the upcoming school year brings its own set of challenges, especially when other respiratory illnesses such as the flu and RSV can spread among children. It will be critical for Families to adopt mitigation strategies to help reduce respiratory illness within the home as well as the child care centers and schools their children attend.