RSV season underway with more illnesses than last year

Published: Dec. 29, 2014 at 11:16 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2015 at 12:03 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Just as flu season is underway, doctors are concerned about another illness.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, can be dangerous for babies and young children.

State health workers say we had about 160 cases of RSV last season.

So far this season, Arizona already is at double that number.

Most of those cases are in children, age four and under.

They have much smaller airways than older children and adults, so when they have inflammation, it's much harder for them to breathe.

Pima County has seen some cases, but the worst of it seems to be in Maricopa County.

At Diamond Children's Medical Center and at Tucson Medical Center they have seen only a few cases so far.

The experts say that means patients are not getting sick enough to end up in the hospital.

It appears they are healing at home on their own or are being seen by their pediatricians and are recovering well.

There is no vaccine to protect against RSV, but there are ways to try to protect the children.

"Same thing we actually do in the hospital which is to prevent access to their children by people who are sick. So 'round about now you'll see the signs go up in our hospital and at Tucson Medical Center. Do not enter this hospital, do not enter the neonatal ICU if you have or might have a virus, a cold, a runny nose, a cough," says Dr. Sean Elliott, University of Arizona Medical Center Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist.

"So don't let those people into your house?" Dr. Elliott is asked.

"Don't let them into your house. And if they have to because grandma's just got to deliver the pudding, she's got to wash her hands and cover her cough," he says.

Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Francisco Garcia says this year's RSV numbers are significantly higher than last year, however, if you look at the past five years, this is a pretty typical RSV season.

Parents should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of RSV in their children.

"The signs and symptoms of RSV typically in younger children include fever, coughing, runny nose and effort breathing, wheezing. Especially in the younger children, especially in children below two years of age you can actually see them really using their chest muscles to breathe," Dr. Garcia says.

The doctors say those children, especially under the age of four, should be seen by their doctors.

They say children most at risk may also have underlying health issues such as asthma.

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