Pediatricians see spike in potentially deadly virus for infants

Local hospitals are seeing a spike in a potentially deadly illness for infants and small children. Baylor Scott & White Health reports a 30 percent increase of respiratory syncytial virus, (RSV), cases over the past week.

Pediatricians say more RSV cases are normal for this time of year but that it's worse this year than it has been in years past. The Baylor Scott & White system alone reports more than 122 cases in Central Texas over the past week. That's up from 90 cases the week prior.

Annual rises in RSV infections are driven by cold and flu season, and doctors say washing hands and occasionally using hand sanitizer is the best prevention.

Pediatrician Goddy Corpuz has treated a lot of children with respiratory illnesses recently at the Baylor Scott & White clinic in Cedar Park.

"This is the time when it usually peaks," says Dr. Corpuz.

Even though numbers are already higher than normal, he says coming cold snaps will likely mean even more young patients paying him a visit in his office. RSV is particularly concerning for infants, because it can be potentially deadly.

"When you have a lot of that mucus in your airways, and their cough mechanisms are not well-developed, it can cause a lot of problems," said Dr. Corpuz.

The illness can also lead to bronchitis and even pneumonia, which are up this year as well.

"They can be secondary, respiratory problems," says Dr. Corpuz.

When the respiratory sickness gets too severe, clinics send kids to local emergency rooms. That's where Dr. Elinor Pisano, pediatric hospitalist at St. David's Children's Hospital, comes in.

"We are actually seeing more for this time of the year than we usually have in previous years," said Dr. Pisano. "I believe yesterday we saw 40 patients, before even half the day was done."

Symptoms can be fever, poor appetite, a wet cough, and sometimes difficulty breathing. Dr. Pisano says that when it becomes hard to breathe, it's time to go to the ER.

"Evidence of that is going to be pulling in of their ribs, pulling in of their abdomen, the child breathing very, very fast, having nasal flaring, or even grunting every time they breathe," Pisano said.

Dr. Corpuz says we haven't even seen the worst of it yet and that he expects to continue to see lots of tiny respiratory patients until April or May.

"That's when it starts to taper off, but it really depends on how long of a cold season we're going to have this year, Corpuz said.

Doctors urge adults to stay home when they are sick, because what may seem like a mild cold or flu to them could be a big problem if it's spread to someone with a weakened immune system.

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