Annual epidemic

Medical officials warn of RSV outbreak

A Geisinger Health System physician called it an annual epidemic.

Each year, about the time the weather turns cold in central Pennsylvania, Respiratory Syncytial Virus returns.

“It’s a viral infection that mostly infects children,” said Dr. Lisa Esolen, medical director for Geisinger Health System.

Health officials take this respiratory virus seriously.

RSV symptoms, which typically appear four to six days after exposure, include congested or runny nose, dry cough, fever, sore throat, and mild headache.

About one-third of those with RSV will end up with a lower tract infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

“This time each year the number of RSV infections in children rise precipitously,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, a pediatrician and chairman of Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital.

Most recently, Geisinger issued visitation restrictions to areas at its main campus in Danville as well as Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital, Geisinger-Bloomsburg Hospital, Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, and Geisinger-Community Medical Center.

No one under age 5 is allowed to visit the children’s floor, obstetrics or nursery of these campuses.

“If they come into certain areas (of hospitals) they can spread it,” Esolen explained.

For the past several years, Geisinger has put in place the restrictions to help prevent the spread of RSV.

While RSV mostly infects children under 5, it can also infect older adults with impaired immune systems.

About 2 percent of all children infected end up hospitalized.

Esolen said it’s difficult to know if RSV is any more common than it used to be.

“I don’t know if we know the answer to that,” she said. “It is more commonly diagnosed.”

RSV is easily spread to other people through coughing and sneezing

The best means of protecting children from RSV is to keep them from those infected with the virus.

Various measures can be taken to help lower one’s risk for exposure including frequent handwashing and sanitization of living spaces and toys.

Avoiding such practices as sharing drinking glasses or food can also reduce risk of infection.

Most children and adults will recover from RSV within one to two weeks.

Young babies, premature infants, and adults or babies with heart or lung problems face more severe and possibly life-threatening situations and may require hospitalization, according to information from

“There’s no specific treatment because it is a virus,” Esolen said.

Cases of RSV usually start in November but can arise anytime between then and April.

Young children who are experiencing wheezing should be checked by a physician, she said.

Susquehanna Health spokeswoman Tracie Witter noted that just four patients treated at the Williamsport-based health system have tested positive for RSV since Dec. 1

The health system does not have in place any visitation restrictions.