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Data: CDC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Children's hospitals and pediatricians across the country are bracing for pediatric emergency visits after seeing an unseasonably high spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Why it matters: A year of masking and social distancing due to COVID led to an absence of other respiratory illnesses like RSV, which has no vaccine and can be dangerous in young children and the elderly. But that break appears to be over.

What's happening: Pediatricians in the U.S. have been treating handfuls of RSV cases in February and March but have seen increases in recent weeks as if it were peak season in winter, Matthew Linam, pediatric infectious disease doctor at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told Axios.

By the numbers: Hundreds of RSV detections have occurred weekly since April with surges in May leading up to nearly 500 cases each week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Cities around the U.S. including Tampa, Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. have seen case rates well above normal for the summer months.
  • Australia's warmer months last year also showed a delayed spike in RSV cases as COVID restrictions lifted. 
  • These viruses never totally go away, even in the warmer months, Gary Whittaker, a virology professor at Cornell University, told Axios. "As soon as there are new kids to infect, it’ll take off," he said.

Be smart: A pre-print paper published in Pediatrics on Wednesday showed about two-thirds of infants with RSV were admitted into Maimonides Children’s Hospital in New York City between March 1 and May 8 of this year.

  • 81% of those admitted were put in ICU. Six children were put on a ventilator.
  • “Our data indicates more severe disease in younger infants possibly due to diminished immunity from lack of exposure to RSV in the previous season," Pediatrics authors Rabia Agha and Jeffrey Avner write. "Continuing closures of daycare centers and virtual schooling may have resulted in less spread of the disease to older children."

What's next: As more schools and daycare centers reopen in person for the fall, doctors also see a benefit for rapid COVID testing in homes and schools to help rule out coronavirus outbreaks and identify other respiratory infections like RSV rather than guess and send children home.

  • Though experts are unsure how long the surge will last or how many more children it will affect, these early indications show parents should try to keep kids home and away from others if they are sick.

The bottom line, per Agha and Avner: "Institutions should plan ahead for an increase in pediatric emergency visits and potentially a need for increased pediatric ICU capacity in the coming weeks."

Go deeper: Get ready for the return of regular sicknesses

Go deeper

Sep 14, 2021 - Podcasts

How the pandemic might be changing young kids

The number of COVID cases in kids has skyrocketed with the Delta variant. For the week ending Sept. 9, children made up 28.9% of reported weekly cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But contracting COVID is far from the only risk for young people during this pandemic. With the new school year upon us, and more data coming out all the time, we’re looking over the next few days at some of the ways COVID has affected kids: from language development to mental health, from toddlers to teens.

  • Plus, the group trying to get more Black Democrats elected to Washington.
  • And, getting to the bottom of hate crimes data.

Guests: Elizabeth Spencer Norton, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University, and Axios' Alexi McCammond and Worth Sparkman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

5 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.