Winter respiratory virus on the rise in East Tennessee during summer months

Caring For Our Kids

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A respiratory virus normally circulating during the winter months is on the rise this summer. RSV is a common childhood illness and according to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, it is circulating in the community right now.

Children’s Hospital reported seeing very few patients with the illness during normal cold and flu season, but since the beginning of June, nearly 200 children have been hospitalized for RSV. The virus is especially dangerous for newborns. According to Dr. Ryan Redman, Children’s Hospital ER Director, they currently are nearly a dozen children hospitalized with RSV.

He says the virus normally peak’s right after the Winter holidays and usually wraps up around Spring. He says that this year they have had their highest numbers, so far, in June and it is not showing signs of dipping yet.

Redman believes that the uptick in cases is due to people beginning to gather again. The decline in RSV seen during the winter months was due to the pandemic and people changing their habits with mask-wearing, social distancing and washing hands more often. All of those measures can cut down on the spread of viruses like RSV according to Redman.

RSV is a contagious infection of the lungs and breathing passages. It is spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. For most adults, it’s just a mild cold, but for children under the age of five, it is especially dangerous because their airways are so tiny. RSV can cause other respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia, It can also cause rapid dehydration if a child is refusing to eat and drink.


  • High fever
  • Fast breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Head bobbing with breathing
  • Rhythmic grunting during breathing
  • Belly breathing, tugging between their ribs, and/or tugging at the lower neck
  • Wheezing
  • Signs of dehydration (may include sunken eyes, lack of tears or urine, listlessness)

Redman says that prevention is key. “It is very important to remind people to NOT kiss babies. Remember to wash hands regularly and clean surfaces with disinfectant, keep older children with a cold away from babies until symptoms have passed.”

Children’s Hospital has seen a total of 357 positive RSV cases since November. Children’s Hospital RSV stats for 2020-2021 (as of July 7, 2021):

  • Nov- 2
  • Dec- 6
  • Jan- 6
  • Feb- 1
  • Mar- 6
  • April- 28
  • May- 110
  • June- 151
  • July- 47

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