SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Just two weeks after the first death of a child under the age of 5 due to flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was reported in California, positive tests for RSV have skyrocketed, and they show no signs of slowing down.

According to Dr. Jim Scott, Dean of Touro University California College of Pharmacy, RSV is a common viral infection that often impacts people during childhood. Our bodies are exposed to the illness multiple times throughout our life, and we are able to build up antibodies that easily fight the virus off.

However, many little ones don’t have these antibodies built up in their systems – and as a result of years of masking and social distancing due to a global pandemic, neither do we.

“People have not been exposed to RSV as much so their bodies have likely stopped making the antibodies,” Dr. Scott explained. Our systems know how to make the necessary antibodies, but “the bodies’ antibody production still takes time to ramp up and meet the need.”

More adults are getting RSV because of low antibody rates, but the illness is still most impactful for children and older adults. Dr. Scott told KRON4 that people who experience severe RSV infections will “typically require hospitalization and specialized antiviral medications.”

Thankfully, most people with mild infections can be treated at home with supportive care, which includes rest, fluids and symptom management with over-the-counter medications, according to Dr. Scott.

A spokesperson for University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospitals told KRON4 bed capacities in the hospital are fluctuating because as soon as one bed opens up, it is immediately filled by a waiting patient in need.

UCSF Benioff is currently consulting with medical teams and families of patients to determine if some surgical procedures can be postponed. The hospital is “prioritizing time-sensitive, medically necessary surgeries,” according to a statement. Medical procedures that can be postponed may be rescheduled when the hospital is treating “fewer incoming acute patients needing inpatient beds.”

According to Dr. David Cornfield, Chief of Pulmonary, Asthma, and Sleep Medicine at Stanford University, people with RSV usually start showing symptoms four to six days after infection.

Dr. Cornfield advises that parents contact the doctor if their child shows any of these symptoms:

  • High unremitting fever (a temperature of 101.3 F [38.5 C] or higher)
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Trouble breathing, such as short, rapid, and shallow breaths or retractions, where the chest caves in and the belly expands with each breath
  • Unusual irritability or inactivity
  • Refusing to nurse or bottle-feed
  • Turning blue around the lips and fingertips—seek out emergency care