Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory illnesses are rising within our community and across the country.

As families travel for the holidays, it is key to understand the impact of these viruses and how to limit germ exposure so families can protect each other, Great Plains Health said in a press release.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that can cause mild cold-like symptoms. For infants and older adults, the virus can be serious. Since mid-October, 20 pediatric patients have been hospitalized at Great Plains Health with respiratory viruses.

“We are now seeing a multitude of different respiratory viruses in the clinic,” said Dr. Soogandaren Naidoo, Great Plains Pediatrics. “Traditionally, as we enter the cold season, we expect harsher respiratory viruses, especially influenza and RSV. However, over the past two years, we have seen not only influenza and RSV, but also traditionally milder viruses that have now mutated and are causing major complications.”

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As a result, Naidoo said children are being infected with either multiple viruses at the same time, or acquiring a new infection before the first infection concludes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 58,000 children younger than 5 are hospitalized each year in the US because of RSV. Those at risk of serious illness include:

  • Premature infants.
  • Very young infants.
  • Children younger than 2 with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease.
  • Children with weakened immune systems.
  • Children with neuromuscular disorders.

“It is important to note that most of these viruses are transmitted either airborne or by contact,” Naidoo said. “The best way to reduce risk is to avoid potential sick contacts, use proper hand hygiene and wipe down surfaces effectively.”

Naidoo and Jenny Lantis, Great Plains Health infection prevention coordinator, recommend to follow the CDC’s recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

“This year, RSV started earlier and is hitting harder,” said Lantis. “With the COVID mitigation measures we’ve had in place, we’ve successfully prevented other respiratory viruses. Now, immunity is waning and children who were born during the pandemic have never been exposed. We must take steps to protect our children, and the elderly too.”

RSV symptoms may include a runny nose, decrease in appetite and cough that may progress into wheezing or difficulty breathing. Very young infants may also show signs of irritability, decreased activity and pauses while breathing.

If a child presents symptoms of a respiratory illness,  Naidoo recommends to break congestion using saline drops, nasal suction or a humidifier.

Naidoo also said to ensure that the child is staying hydrated and to monitor the child’s breathing for any discomfort or unusual patterns. Naidoo encourages parents to call their provider if a child presents with worrisome symptoms, or has a fever lasting more than three days.

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