Doctors are advising people to use cautious as the US Christmas season draws near in order to prevent an increase in common and potentially harmful winter viruses.
While there are worries about other illnesses like the flu, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is on the rise in the US.
Some hospitals have opened additional beds to treat patients.
Ten-month old Cooper’s mother, Winnie Chow, took him to the hospital earlier this month after he had been coughing and throwing up for a few days.
He recovered from RSV there for four days.
“I was in tears,” said Ms Chow, who lives in Hackensack, New Jersey. “For him to be there for more than a day was very scary.”
Ms Chow is one of many parents who have had to seek care for an unwell child as winter viruses arrive earlier and with more severity than in recent years – a trend experts say could persist as people gather indoors for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Winnie Chow said her son Cooper spent four says in hospital recovering from RSV
“We do worry when people start gathering,” said Richard Malley, a senior physician with the Division of Infectious Disease at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
“When you have multiple generations mingling together, you have an increased risk of transmission from someone who is handling the virus pretty well to someone who may not handle it well at all.”
What is RSV all about and what are the symptoms?
According to research, RSV can manifest like a common cold in adults, but can prove dangerous for some young children.
Symptoms include a cough, congestion, runny nose and fever as well as wheezing in young infants, according to Rachel Orscheln, the director of ambulatory paediatric infectious diseases at St Louis Children’s Hospital.
For the most vulnerable, RSV can lead to bronchiolitis, a condition that includes a build-up of inflammation in the lungs and difficulty breathing. There is no vaccine for RSV but scientists are working on developing one.
It can be difficult to distinguish between RSV, coronavirus and the flu because the respiratory viruses include many of the same symptoms and usually peak in winter.
But physicians can use tests to diagnose patients to determine the best course of treatment.
Parents should reach out to their child’s healthcare provider if they begin to have concerns, especially if they are experiencing worsening symptoms, difficulty breathing or are struggling to drink fluids, said Sonali Advani, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
Why are RSV and flu cases rising?
Experts say protective measures like social distancing, mask wearing and other hygiene practices from the coronavirus pandemic likely shielded some children from exposure to the flu and their first RSV infection, which most children normally experience by age two.
This means they may now be more vulnerable to infection.
An earlier RSV season followed by more severe flu infections has created a “perfect storm” that is “flooding our paediatric capacity”, said Daniel Rauch, the chief of Paediatric Hospital Medicine at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts.
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