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An Old Virus Resurges

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is nothing new to the pediatric world. The illness, which causes symptoms such as runny nose and cough, typically spikes in the winter months. But in the aftermath of the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors are reporting an unexpected surge of the virus among infants and toddlers, and parents are taking to social media to share photos of their little ones battling the virus. 

Thankfully, Dr. Jason Terk, a pediatrician at Cook Children’s Pediatrics in Keller, Texas, says that the vast majority of those who get RSV — including those below the age of 2 — recover from the virus without much need for treatment. “We’ve seen many, many, many children with RSV and a very, very small minority of those kids end up getting into trouble that requires hospitalization,” Terk tells Yahoo Life. 

Still, he admits that the current increase in cases is a major deviation from the standard cycle of RSV. “It’s unprecedented,” says Terk. “If you look at typical RSV, it’s a type of illness that we see usually starting in late fall into the wintertime and then goes away usually by late winter, early spring.” 

Many hospitals are seeing a spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus or RSV in kids. Here's why the typically winter virus may be spreading. (Photos: Getty Images)
Many hospitals are seeing a spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in kids. Here’s why the winter virus may be spreading. (Getty Images)

As the RSV virus continues to spread nationwide, here’s what you need to know.

Southern states are experiencing particularly high cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning in June about the rise in RSV cases, particularly in Southern states. Dr. Diana Peterson, a pediatrician at Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans, confirms that her department is seeing a spike. “Since mid-April, Louisiana has seen a progressive rise in RSV cases,” says Peterson. “We typically see RSV in the winter months along with other cough and flu-like illnesses, which makes the RSV pattern we are experiencing now very unusual.”

Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer and vice president of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Urgent Care, agrees. “We are seeing a large number of RSV cases, and that’s something we’ve never really seen in the summer before,” says Spinner. “I think it came as a surprise to all of us.” Dr. April Palmer, professor and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, says the same. “Like the rest of the country, we are seeing a spike in cases.”

COVID-19 precautions likely played a role in the current spike

While no one can say for certain why the respiratory virus is spiking off-season, all the experts implied that the COVID-19 pandemic played a role. “Our practices were virtual ghost towns through the winter of 2020-21, so because we were not having any significant viral transmission to speak of — based upon the public health measures that we were undertaking — those individuals who normally might have been exposed to RSV at that time were unexposed,” says Terk. “And it probably provided an opportunity for that virus to take hold and create a little mini spike here that we’re seeing right now.”

Peterson elaborates on how the COVID-19 precautions likely contributed. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the community was very diligent with masking, physical distancing and careful school precautions,” she says. “These measures were associated with a very large decrease in other non-COVID-19 respiratory illness, which includes RSV. As these precautions were relaxed, we are seeing RSV and other respiratory illnesses circulating outside of their normal seasonal pattern.”

Hospitalization and death with RSV is incredibly rare

It’s true that RSV can be more dangerous for infants and young kids than adults, with the potential to cause a severe lower respiratory infection called bronchiolitis. But Terk reinforces that these serious cases are rare. “Most of the time RSV causes an illness that is entirely manageable at home with use of the usual things that we recommend for viral respiratory infections — nasal saline, suctioning and humidification,” he says. “If there’s a worsening of the respiratory status or they have a hard time breathing, then they need to be seen by their physician.”

Spinner adds that RSV can often be so mild that it’s assumed to be the common cold, though doctors can use a test to determine which it is. “It’s one of the most common viruses; every child will have been infected with RSV at some point during their childhood,” says Spinner. “A lot of times you get a runny nose, a cough, you get drained… You can’t tell that it’s RSV versus a common cold, but you deal with it the same way. It’s symptom relief. There’s no cure for it. It just runs its course. And even in a lot of younger kids and a lot of babies, that’s all it might do. It may just be a cold.”

As with many illnesses, Spinner says, the most at risk are the very young (babies under three months) and those with underlying medical conditions. For those with remaining questions, contact your health care provider or visit the CDC’s information page.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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