RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis—inflammation of the lung’s small airways—in infants.

As flu season picks up and experts weigh concerns about another possible COVID surge, children’s hospitals are already filling with patients with another viral threat: respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. 

RSV is an RNA virus made up of 11 proteins, similar to influenza A, another RNA virus whose genes encode the same number of proteins. It infects the nose, throat, lungs and the breathing passages of the upper and lower respiratory system, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. As the body sends immune cells to virus-infected cells to fight the disease, it causes inflammation in the airways. Read more here.

Why might RSV be particularly bad this year?

While it may be too early to know for sure, health experts agree that the earlier-than-usual surges are a consequence of the broad lifting of COVID-19 precautions, which served to protect the public from a variety of viruses.

“When the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, we saw the rates of all viruses plummet,” Dr. Vandana Madhavan, director of advanced pediatrics at Mass General Brigham in Boston, told NPR. That was largely due to people staying indoors, wearing masks and frequently washing or sanitizing their hands, she added.

Once restrictions began to be loosened in the spring of 2021, health experts began seeing odd patterns of circulation of these respiratory viruses. This year, the return to pre-COVID social activities and interactions, travel and in-class teaching has led to another dangerous spike, Madhavan explained. Read more here.