Infants, young children and the elderly are most at risk

ROCHESTER — Hospitals across the country, including many in the Rochester area, are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of patients with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The respiratory virus is particularly dangerous for infants and young children.

On Tuesday, the University of Rochester Center for Community Health was awarded a $9 million grant to monitor infectious diseases like the flu and RSV.

Currently, a number of vaccines have been developed to combat RSV, but none are licensed for use in the United States. The researchers at the Center for Community Health will be studying the vaccines to determine which may work best.

Infants under the age of 10-weeks, children in daycare and the elderly are most at risk for complications from RSV. The virus is highly contagious and spreads by coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include a drop in appetite, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, fever, difficulty breathing and dehydration.

At Strong Memorial Hospital, there were 58 confirmed cases of RSV last week, up from 39 cases the week before. Typically, RSV appears in the late fall and cases last through March.

While doctors suggest parents wash children’s hands often, sanitize toys and surfaces and keep older kids away from younger ones who may be showing symptoms, they may soon have another alternative for avoiding the virus.

"RSV really is a significant viral pathogen that does cause a lot of disease, so I think that's one of the reasons that there's been a lot of interest in developing a vaccine and there are a number of them in the pipeline," says Dr. Nancy Bennett, the director of the Center for Community Health.

URMC is being tasked with studying those vaccines to determine which work best for whom before official approval for any of them is granted. The work will be done as part of the $9 million grant awarded to monitor a variety of infectious diseases.

The research helps the federal government estimate disease rates and the impact of interventions. The information, according to Bennett, is then used to create prevention and treatment policies to improve the health of Americans.