(NEXSTAR) – Hospitals across the country have reported an increase in the number of children hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV. Amid what is expected to be a severe flu season and with COVID-19 still infecting thousands every week, some are warning that we could be entering a tough few months.
“We have already seen above what we expect for October of any given year in terms of RSV locally and across the country,” Diego Hijano, an infectious disease specialist at the research hospital for The Hill, told The Hill. St. Jude children. Over the past week, nearly 7,000 RSV tests have come back positive, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, well above the roughly 30 reported at the same time last year.
Dr. Julie Holland, vice president of pediatric primary care for the Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance, told Nexstar’s WGN that patients were worried about getting all three viruses at once.
So how can you tell these viruses apart?
First, it is important to note the most serious symptom: difficulty breathing. If your child has trouble breathing for any reason, get medical help right away. Signs of this may include being able to see your child’s ribs as they breathe, their lips turning pale or blue, or the area under your child’s Adam’s apple collapsing.
Who is most at risk?
Anyone can catch these viruses, but infants are among the most vulnerable, as are older adults and those with weakened immune systems.
In the case of RSV, a young child’s smaller airways make them more vulnerable.
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“Their airways are smaller, so inflammation and excess mucus make it harder for them to breathe,” Dr. Joe Childs of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital explained to Nexstar’s WATE. “Especially in the first months of life, it can be very unpleasant.”
Their younger immune systems may also make them more vulnerable to the flu. Holland says that when it comes to flu and RSV, “the younger you are, the sicker you get.”
While young children can catch COVID, many who do catch it have no symptoms, according to Harvard Medical School. If they show symptoms, they tend to be milder. Children, however, are at risk of a serious complication known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, after being exposed to or contracting the virus that causes COVID. According to the CDC, MIS-C can cause heart, lung, kidney, brain, skin, eye, or gastrointestinal problems.
What are the symptoms?
All three viruses show similar symptoms in young children, wrote Michael Meyer, medical director of the Wisconsin Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for Children in a blog post Monday.
“These include a stuffy or runny nose, cough, headache, and low fever,” Meyer writes. “Their appetite may also be lower, and for breastfed babies, that may mean fewer wet diapers.”
These symptoms are similar to those listed for COVID by the CDC and influenza by John Hopkins Medicine. The flu includes additional symptoms, such as high fever, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In young children, RSV, an upper respiratory infection, can also cause wheezing and respiratory distress, Holland said. But she added that you can’t tell which virus a person has just by looking at their symptoms. Instead, you’ll need a diagnosis from a medical professional.
How are viruses diagnosed?
A diagnosis of COVID requires a nasal swab test, either with a PCR test or with an antigen test. Screening for RSV, while generally not necessary according to the American Lung Association, is usually done using a mouth swab or blood test. If your doctor suspects your child has the flu, tests may include nasal or throat swabs.
How to keep your child safe
Although it can be difficult to tell viruses apart, the protections for your child are the same for everyone.
Meyer encourages washing your hands often and making sure anyone who comes into contact with your child has washed their hands. If your child or someone else in your home is not feeling well, they should stay home. Those who are not feeling well should also not visit your home. He further recommends keeping surfaces clean as viruses can live on hard surfaces.
There is no vaccine for RSV, but vaccines are available for COVID and influenza.
The flu vaccine is recommended for most children 6 months and older, according to John Hopkins.
Two COVID vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – have been approved for children as young as 6 months old. A third vaccine, Novavax, has been approved for children as young as 12 years old.
During RSV season, an injection of an antibody drug is sometimes prescribed to protect premature and other very vulnerable babies. Infants of mothers who had RSV during pregnancy may also have some immunity.
Whether your child has RSV, the flu or COVID, if you’re concerned your child has a serious respiratory problem, “don’t hesitate” to go to the emergency room or call 911, said Dr. Russell Migita of Seattle. . Children’s hospital.
For less serious medical issues, Migita said, call your regular healthcare provider for advice, use telehealth or go to the emergency room.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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