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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases on the rise as fall approaches | Health Smart

The American Lung Association has launched an educational campaign to help parents navigate this rise in cases.

YORK, Pa. — Nearly 100% of kids get infected with what's called Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) by age 2. The common virus is typically mild but it's also the number one cause of infant hospitalizations. This is why FOX43 talked to a local doctor and parent to find out more in this week's Health Smart.

"It was a very scary situation," Tristan Lopez said of when her twin boys Alex and Diego got sick with RSV. "They would fall asleep with maybe just a little bit of a runny nose or cough and then at one in the morning, they wouldn't be able to breathe, turn blue in the face, and actually wouldn't be able to breathe until the point that you knew he couldn't get enough oxygen. 

Most people develop only mild cold-like symptoms from the contagious virus, doctors say. Diego has been hospitalized twice, however, and Alex has been hospitalized 6 times. 

"I attribute at least 75% of those to RSV," Lopez said.

Those numbers didn't surprise Alex and Diego's specialist, Dr. Juanita Mora.

"It is the number one cause of hospitalizations in kids less than 12 months of age," Dr. Mora said. "It starts with a runny nose, maybe a little congestion, a little dehydration, fever, but then it can become dangerous if it drops to the lungs. Once there, she says, it can put kids at risk for getting bronchiolitis and pneumonia, which is typically what ends up sending them to the emergency room, like Diego and Alex.

"The symptoms just happen so quickly and they will get so sick so fast," Lopez said. "If your child at any time has severe symptoms then don't doubt in talking to your pediatrician or taking your child to the hospital."  

Like most viruses, RSV is spread through close contact with an infected person or even by touching objects that have the virus on them. To avoid getting sick, keep washing those hands and frequently touched surfaces, and avoid close contact with anyone under the weather, doctors say. 

Lopez though, has one more piece of advice: "I think being an advocate for your kids and trusting your instincts, is so important." 

Symptoms of RSV doctors say to look out for include congestion, runny nose, fever, cough, and sore throat. Very young infants may be irritable, fatigued, and have breathing difficulties. Normally these symptoms will clear up on their own in a few days, but if not...a barking or wheezing cough can be one of the first signs of a more serious illness. Infants with severe RSV will have short, shallow, and rapid breathing. This can be identified by the "caving-in" of the chest in between the ribs and under the ribs (chest wall retractions), "spreading-out" of the nostrils with every breath (nasal flaring), and abnormally fast breathing.

In addition, their mouths, lips, and fingernails may turn a bluish color due to lack of oxygen.

Doctors recommend reaching out to your child's pediatrician if you or your child is having trouble breathing, has poor appetite or decreased activity levels, cold symptoms that become severe, or a shallow cough that continues throughout the day and night.

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