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COVID, RSV, cold or flu? What to know and what to do if your child gets sick

COVID, RSV, cold, or flu?  What to know and what to do if your child gets sick. (WJLA)
COVID, RSV, cold, or flu? What to know and what to do if your child gets sick. (WJLA)
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FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WJLA/WKRC) - Across the country and the DMV region, hospitals and doctor's office are reporting a big increase in pediatric patients. Children's National Hospital was among the first to sound the alarm, as it reached capacity this past weekend amid a rise in both COVID and RSV cases.

WJLA has also reported on the impact to pediatrician's offices.

On Wednesday, the pediatric medical director of the emergency department at Inova Fairfax Hospital said they're also seeing record patient volumes.

"We're seeing record volumes of everything. And that's a national trend, that's not just local," said Dr. Rick Place. "RSV, COVID, gastroenteritis, hand foot and mouth disease, the common cold, bronchiolitis that's not related to RSV... a little bit of everything over the past two or three months."

He says the early surge in RSV cases among kids is particularly unusual.

"RSV is something that I personally have never seen in the summer, and we're literally seeing a ton of it."

Why so many illnesses among young kids right now? Dr. Place believes it's connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

"You know, nobody was sick for the past year. And so all of a sudden we're seeing what it means to not be exposed to illnesses for the past year, and everyone is sort of getting what they didn't get over the last year. It's a very interesting phenomenon we're looking at right now," he said.

And while it's not yet flu season, Dr. Place know that's coming soon, too.

"So I don't necessarily think we're going to see a whole lot of relief as the winter goes on," he said. "I think this is going to be a really rough winter."

It's a situation that can be both concerning and confusing for families, as some of the symptoms of these different illnesses can overlap.

On its website, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention lists specific symptoms for COVID-19, RSV, and the flu, but there are some similarities. For instance, fever, cough, and a runny nose are possible with all three illnesses.

WJLA asked Dr. Place what a parent should do in that situation.

"That's a really hard one, and I think we are really struggling through that, not just in the emergency department or the pediatrician's office, but as a society, because we're really trying to avoid bringing COVID into school or work," said Dr. Place. "And you know, especially with kids, and with vaccinated adults, COVID can present just as a mild upper respiratory infection. So you don't know that you don't have COVID when you have sort of the common cold."

He says the reality is that there are no easy answers for people who are worried about their kids getting sick.

"It's not like you can take any one particular set of symptoms and say this might be COVID, you should be tested for that, or this is not COVID, you're find, you can go back to school. And that's the real frustrating thing about this."

Nor is there an easy answer when a parent must decide whether to keep their child at home, or go to the pediatrician's office, or to the emergency room.

Dr. Place said they do see a lot of patients coming into the emergency department that aren't emergency cases, which tend to crowd the emergency room and result in longer wait times. But he knows pediatrician's offices are also being overwhelmed with patients.

"The problem with just saying go to your pediatrician's office is that I'm getting reports from my pediatric colleagues out in the community that their appointments are full too. They don't have the capacity to take care of everything we're seeing. So I think my take home message, to the extent that there can be one, is that I think a lot of kids with minor cold symptoms don't need a full medical evaluation, they just need a COVID test," he said. "So I think this is where urgent cares I think are really filling a niche in the community right now."

He also encourages parents with a sick child at home to closely monitor their symptoms.

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"People oftentimes get worried about how well the fever medicines are working or how high the fever is. I don't know if that's as important to me as really, how does the child look?," he said. "If they look ill, then that's when you really need a medical evaluation."

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