High RSV rates in Detroit prompt warnings from health officials

Detroit’s community rate of RSV is high, prompting city health officials to urge families to take precautions and be mindful of symptoms as demand climbs for acute pediatric care beds in city hospitals.

Detroit’s Health Department is stepping up its messaging around respiratory illnesses, including RSV, COVID-19 and influenza, and reminding families about best practices to prevent illness – and when to seek out medical intervention. 

“While we still have acute care pediatric hospital beds available here in the City of Detroit, capacity is extremely limited due to the early and growing outbreak of RSV,” Detroit’s Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair Razo said in a Friday statement. “That is why we are urging all Detroiters to take precautions against the spread of all respiratory diseases, and that includes getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19.”

Dr. Claudia Richardson, medical director for the Detroit Health Department, noted RSV is a common virus that is prevalent when the respiratory illness season peaks around this time of year. 

RSV, she said, has been a leading cause of hospitalizations for children under one for years and precautions tied to COVID-19 in the last couple of years have resulted in less children being exposed to RSV, but, as a result, natural immunity also is down. 

“It (RSV) is prevalent here in Detroit, but it’s also prevalent in many other areas across the United States,” she said. “It can be present just like any other respiratory illness and parents have to look for the usual symptoms.”

Richardson said those warning signs include cough, fever, sore throat and a runny nose. Individuals most susceptible to the virus are young children, older adults and people with compromised immune systems. 

“What’s very important in younger babies is when it goes past the phase where you’ve done all you can do and still the infant or young child is not getting better – they are inconsolable, not eating or have a poor appetite – you need to seek medical care,” she said. 

“The other very important thing about RSV is there’s no vaccine for RSV at the moment,” added Richardson. “The more we can improve protection in these areas where we have vaccines (like flu and COVID-19), the more we can be less concerned about those diseases that we have vaccinated for.”

State officials confirmed the RSV death of a 6-year-old child this week. The Oakland County boy’s death was the first publicly confirmed from the virus this season in Michigan.

Michigan is one of 12 states that report to a national RSV surveillance program, RSV-NET, run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Oct. 22, Michigan had the third highest rate of residents hospitalized with confirmed RSV (2.8 hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents), behind Connecticut and New York.

Richardson said hospitals and pediatric offices in Detroit are feeling the strain. 

Dr. Uzma Shah, chair of pediatrics for Henry Ford Health, said like other healthcare systems across Michigan, Henry Ford is seeing a sustained increase in pediatric visits to emergency departments due to RSV as well as other respiratory illnesses.

“While we are ready to care for anyone who needs us, we’re asking the community to help limit the strain that hospitals are feeling statewide by taking precautions that can help stop the spread of illness,” Shah said in a statement. 

Richardson said Detroit’s Health Department is encouraging hand washing, staying home if individuals are sick, and even wearing a mask if they choose.

“We want to exercise caution and focus on prevention, that’s the great message to Detroiters,” she said. 

Detroit has lagged the state and surrounding counties in its vaccination rates for COVID-19, and health officials are still working to encourage residents to get vaccinated. 

“We’re still probably not where we want to be with vaccinations and we’re continuing to increase awareness about the benefits of the bivalent (COVID-19 booster) shots,” Richardson added. 

The health department offers free immunizations at several sites:

  • 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday at the DHD Immunization Clinic, 100 Mack Avenue
  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday at Samaritan Center, 5555 Conner Avenue
  • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday at the Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers  

Walk-ins are welcome, but vaccination appointments can be scheduled on the Detroit Health Department website. Appointments also can be made by texting “vaccine” to (313) 329-7272.

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