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'It's a universal infection': Norton doctors seeing spike in RSV cases

Doctors said they've seen a more than 60 percent spike in RSV cases so far this year, that's why they're trying to help raise awareness.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Doctors at Norton Hospital said Louisville is seeing a high number of children in the hospital this year sick with an illness called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). 

They've said they've seen more than a 60 percent spike in RSV cases so far this year, that's why they're trying to help raise awareness, so parents can keep their children safe. 

"It's a universal infection. Every child almost is going to encounter this in their first few years of life," Dr. Scott Bickel, pediatric pulmonologist and medical director for respiratory therapy at Norton's Children Hospital, said. "And the fact that we're seeing them so early could indicate that we're in for a rough winter. We quite frankly don't know yet."

He said Norton's has seen 66 hospitalizations -- more than double the 32 they saw this time last year.

"Anytime we see these spikes in viral illnesses, it's concerning in terms of longer wait times in emergency department, longer wait times for the pediatrician, and so on," Bickel said. "And I think it really underscores the importance of staying on top of any medications that that you might need to be on, and really preparing yourself for this."

Here's what parents need to know.

Doctors explained while RSV is a common virus, in rare cases an infection may cause inflammation or mucus buildup in the airways. This will lower oxygen and make it harder for children to breath.

Of the infants who get RSV, Bickel said only 1% become sick enough to need hospitalization. Norton's Hospital said most RSV patients they've seen this year are under 2-years-old. 

Someone who's exposed to RSV might start to exhibit symptoms about 48 hours to 72 hours after, experts said.  

They said those infected typically experience mild cold-like symptoms including:

  • Nasal drainage
  • Congestion
  • Wheezing
  • Labored breathing:
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Bickel said parents should seek immediate medical attention if their children are experiencing any of the following symptoms: a blue color change around the lips or fingers, dehydration leading to a decreased number of wet diapers or the inability for them to make tears when they cry, dry lips or dry mouth.

In serious cases, experts said RSV can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis.

According to Bickel, children under the age of six month old are higher risk, and especially children who might have been born prematurely. He said those with other health issues—cardiac disease, a history of heart disease, asthma, etc.— as well as people in the older community, are also at-risk.

Doctors said they're not looking to panic parents, they're simply looking to raise awareness. 

"It's obviously always very emotional to care for kids who are in the hospital, who are sick or being kept from being able to do the things that they want to do," Bickel said. "Thankfully, in the vast majority of situations, children recover. And I think the big thing is providing ways and mechanisms to help identify future problems, and [preventing] them from happening."

They said one way parents can protect their children is by getting them a flu-shot as the colder months inch closer.

Simple cold-prevention measures like hand washing and coughing or sneezing into your arm also helps. 

While Norton's isn't entirely sure why its seeing this spike in RSV hospitalizations, it believes children heading back to school may have given way to its spreading.

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