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Cases of children with respiratory virus picking up

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Posted: Thursday, December 2, 2010 4:51 pm

Doctors are starting to see cases of RSV — respiratory syncytial virus — a disease that can cause lung illness in children.

Last week, Maricopa County had four lab-confirmed cases of the illness, and those were the only lab-confirmed cases in the state. That’s below what was seen this time last year and the year before.

But statewide, there have been 42 lab-confirmed cases this season. All but one was a child under age 10.

The state Department of Health Services tracks RSV by season, starting in October. Last RSV season, the peak of the disease was February and March.

RSV is the most common viral infection that involves the lungs. In most children and adults, RSV appears as a very bad cold, with a runny nose and cough, and sometimes — but not always — a fever.

Children younger than the age of 1 can really struggle with the illness because of the mucus buildup.

“The important thing to remember is RSV is another virus. I would encourage parents not to think, ‘Is this RSV or a cold?’ Think about, ‘How sick is my child? Are they sleeping OK? Eating OK?’ ” said Dr. Jeff Kirkpatrick, medical director of the Catholic Healthcare West Urgent Care in Gilbert.

If a child’s responses are very different than normal, it might be time to get checked by a doctor.

Breathing issues can be noticeable in very young children when they eat, such as if a bottle-fed child has to come up for air after just a few gulps, Kirkpatrick said.

Dr. Ryan Young, an urgent care physician at the Phoenix Children’s Specialty and Urgent Care East Valley Center in Mesa, said this is about the time of year when RSV starts appearing.

“The numbers of kids infected are starting to pick up,” he said. “It’s usually after Thanksgiving holidays when people visit with families in other places. When they come back, they infect other people.”

Young said the best way to prevent disease of any type is hand-washing. In the case where there are children in the house, it would also help to clean doorknobs and other surfaces.

“RSV requires a contact-base transmission. Secretions need to be picked up from one child to another. Kids are always putting their hands around their mouths and noses,” he said.

Young said parents are intuitive about how sick their kids are.

“I tell parents that if they’re worried, get their kids checked out,” Young said. “Parents have a good ability to know when their kids are really sick.”

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