GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Chelsa Carr said it started with a wet barking cough. 

“He’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and he’ll be coughing uncontrollably and almost unable to catch his breath,” she explained.

She added it didn’t take long for the fever to come.

“He had 102.3 fever, and he was just crying, and he was like inconsolable,” Carr said.

Carr said her son was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV and flu recently. The family was notified by his daycare he had been exposed to another child who had RSV.

“So, we proceeded to try to go to an urgent care — tried to go to the pediatric urgent care in Round Rock, and nobody had RSV tests. So, we couldn’t get him in at his pediatrician’s in Round Rock either,” said Carr.

Texas hit peak positive RSV cases in mid-October

Doctor’s offices, emergency rooms and urgent cares continue to see children with RSV.

Texas Department of State Health Services data shows for PCR testing, which is a nasal swab and more commonly used, there was a peak of roughly 1,300 positive RSV tests in mid-October across the state. In recent weeks, the numbers have been trending down to less than 1,000 positive tests. Last year during the same time period, the data shows less than 500 positive tests across Texas. 

The common respiratory virus infects the lungs and breathing passages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained if serious, especially for infants and older adults, RSV can cause hospitalizations.

According to the DSHS, the illness can begin four to six days after being exposed to the virus. 
Typical symptoms include a low-grade fever, congested or runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue and occasionally wheezing. In severe cases, symptoms may include a worsening croupy cough, unusually rapid breathing, difficulty breathing and a bluish color of the lips or fingernails caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood.

First RSV vaccine

“An RSV vaccine has really eluded researchers for decades. RSV was first discovered in the mid-1950s, and it’s been difficult to make a vaccine,” explained Dr. Jason McLellan, professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

McLellan’s work was critical for the COVID-19 vaccines, but before that in 2013 he was engineering a breakthrough to combat RSV when he was at the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center.

He said by the next RSV season the first vaccine could be available.

“The clinical trials have been going on for years, and the phase three results are coming out now. I think the expectation is that we will have licensed RSV vaccines sometime next year in 2023, probably in time for the peak season,” explained McLellan.

The clinical trials for the vaccine have been for older adults and pregnant women so far. McLelland explained there will be additional trials for younger kids similar to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Pfizer just had some very positive results for maternal immunization. So, in that case, you would vaccinate a pregnant woman in the third trimester, that would elicit high titers of antibodies against RSV that would then be passively transferred to the newborn,” said McLellan. “And then those antibodies would protect the newborn for maybe the first six months of life, which is really when RSV is particularly bad for the newborns.”

McLellan’s work comes as UT recently launched Texas Biologics which he leads. The Cockrell School of Engineering and the College of Natural Sciences are behind the new initiative which will research vaccinations and treatments for a wide range of diseases, cancer and neurological disorders. 

“From cancer-fighting drugs to proven vaccines, few universities can match UT Austin’s already impressive track record of success in biologics research and development,” said UT Vice President for Research Daniel Jaffe. “The establishment of Texas Biologics will facilitate bringing together still more scientists, engineers, clinicians and inventors to advance new breakthroughs in medicine and save lives.”

Parents urged to take precautions

As RSV, COVID-19 and flu cases collide, doctors and hospitals urge parents to take precautions and keep kids home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes and wash hands often.

The Carrs have been monitoring their little boy closely.

“Just literally just watching him sleep to make sure that his chest is, you know, is rising and falling and he’s not having a difficult time breathing,” said Carr.

They said he’s been fever free and they’re grateful they were finally able to get him tested for RSV especially since not all children can get tested. Pediatricians and urgent care clinics KXAN investigators checked with said they only test younger kids up to 4 years old.

“If something seems a little off or if they seem a little more fussy than normal, just really pay attention to them and then act on it early,” explained Carr.