Island Health Officials Monitoring Big Spike In Nantucket RSV Cases

Jason Graziadei •

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Nantucket health officials are monitoring a spike in the number of RSV cases diagnosed on the island, but so far Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s emergency department has not been overwhelmed by an influx of patients needing to be hospitalized.

The hospital has diagnosed 62 cases of RSV in island patients so far this month, a significant increase from the 10 that were recorded in November of last year. The vast majority of those cases have been in children 10-years-old or younger.

According to the CDC, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that typically causes cold-like symptoms. Most people are able to recover within a week or two, but the virus can be serious for infants and older adults, requiring hospitalization.

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The spike on Nantucket is similar to the surge of RSV cases being observed in children across the country, which is overwhelming children’s hospitals and pediatric units, prompting health organizations to scramble resources and rearrange staffing. Rates of RSV have been rising in Massachusetts as well.

Nantucket Cottage Hospital infection prevention manager Elizabeth Harris said the emergency department at NCH has not been overwhelmed, but the hospital is participating in regular meetings with the Mass General Brigham system to address and monitor the ongoing surge. With guidance and recommendations from the state Department of Public Health, the hospital is preparing for any influx of sick patients requiring hospitalization that might occur.

“It’s definitely here and it’s hitting hard,” said Nantucket Health Department director Roberto Santamaria. “Luckily it’s not overwhelming the system.”

As WBUR recently noted, three Massachusetts health organizations - the Massachusetts Medical Society, the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians - are recommending that people consider wearing masks in crowded indoor areas, get their COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, as well as keep their children home from school even if they seem slightly sick, due to the spike in RSV.

Santamaria said the Nantucket Board of Health was not considering any formal recommendation regarding masks, but was continuing to monitor the situation.

“Just take care of yourself,” Santamaria said. “We all have a little bit weaker immune systems now because we overprotected them during COVID. Our lungs weren’t exposed to the constant bombardment we see during a normal year.”

To reduce the spread of RSV, Nantucket Cottage Hospital recommends the basics: covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing, frequent hand-washing, and staying home if you feel sick.

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