Is It RSV, COVID-19 or the flu? A pediatrician breaks down the difference amid sharp rise in cases

WESTWOOD — Melissa Levin is a mother of three in Westwood, battling all the colds and viruses this time of year – especially now that her seven-month-old Aidan started daycare.

“Socialization and childcare is really key for us as dual working parents, we need to have childcare, so daycare made the most sense, but then we also know that there’s high exposure,” said Levin.

She says Aidan has already been exposed to RSV, and he now has a double ear infection.

“It’s definitely a major concern especially if you have a young baby because RSV, it can morph really quickly, it could seem like mild symptoms and then all of a sudden you’re going into respiratory distress,” said Levin.

“We expect this year to be a pretty busy year for viruses,” said Dr. Mark Blumenthal, Interim Chair of Pediatrics at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

He says RSV cases are soaring among children.

Boston Children’s Hospital also started postponing elective surgeries earlier this month, warning families about “significant wait times” for hospital beds because of illnesses like RSV well before the typical flu season even began.

“With the pandemic, the seasonality of viruses has kind of changed, so typically you might see something like hand-foot-mouth in the summer, RSV in the winter, flu in the winter, and those have all kind of changed more recently, ” said Dr. Blumenthal.

Dr. Blumenthal says RSV spread much earlier this year, and he expects a spike in COVID-19 cases soon too.

“People’s immune system probably took a break during covid as everyone was kind of masked up and not going out,” said Dr. Blumenthal. “Now it’s kind of coming back a little bit with a vengeance.”

If that wasn’t enough, there’s another virus to be aware of this year too.

“About every other year Enterovirus can cause this ascending paralytic type or weakness type syndrome and 2022 is one of those years we’re expecting that,” said Dr. Blumenthal.

While enterovirus can be alarming in some cases, Dr. Blumenthal says those severe cases are quite rare.

“If we’re going to live our life, then you’re going to be exposed, so I think part of it is just recognizing that your child will get sick and that’s okay,” said Dr. Blumenthal.

Doctors say it’s tough to tell which virus your child may have since RSV, COVID and flu all present similar symptoms like a runny nose, cough or fever.

But some doctors say a sore throat could be an early sign of COVID-19.

“I don’t think knowing the virus makes a difference about what you’re going to do at home for your child,” said Dr. Blumenthal.

But sometimes a child will need to go to a hospital, so be on the lookout if your child has difficulty breathing, wheezing, shows signs of dehydration or has a persistent high fever, call their doctor.

A simple reminder many parents may need after living in a pandemic for two and a half years.

Dr. Blumenthal says children should also get the flu and covid vaccine to protect against the most severe symptoms even though those vaccines aren’t perfect.

There is no vaccine for RSV right now.

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