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St. Louis doctors say hospitalizations for childhood respiratory virus on the rise

The entrance of St. Louis Children's Hospital on north Kingshighway
Nassim Benchaabane
St. Louis Public Radio
Doctors at St. Louis Children's Hospital say they've seen an increase in a common respiratory virus early this fall.

Emergency room physicians at St. Louis Children’s Hospital are seeing more children admitted with a common respiratory virus than usual.

Respiratory syncytial virus causes coughing, fever and other cold-like symptoms. It can be dangerous, especially in infants and young children. Since late September, Children’s physicians have been admitting about 80 children each week with complications from the virus.

It’s unusual to see so many admissions for the virus in October, said Dr. Jamie Kondis, an emergency pediatrician at Children’s.

“We have really seen a surge, which is unusual,” she said. “RSV peaks more in the late fall through early spring months. So it's more of something that we would see more in the winter.”

Kondis said therise in RSV cases in St. Louis and nationwidecould indicate a severe season to come for flu, colds and other respiratory illnesses.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, it’s been difficult to gauge how severe the season will be, she said.

“Respiratory viruses are just a little unpredictable right now, ever since 2020,” Kondis said. “We're not really sure what they're going to be, since we had a couple years there where we had less because everybody was home, everybody was masking.”

RSV isn’t a severe threat to most children’s health, she said. Most get it before age 2. However, in infants and babies, it can cause problems.

Children who develop an infection in their lower respiratory tract can have trouble breathing and need to be hospitalized and use a ventilator to breathe, she said. The congestion caused by the virus can sometimes mean children stop eating and drinking, which can lead to severe dehydration.

Kondis said that because the emergency room is crowded, most parents should go to their pediatricians or an urgent care clinic if they suspect their child has RSV.

However, children who are under 8 weeks old and have a fever above 101, or who seem dehydrated or disoriented and are having trouble breathing, should be taken to the emergency department, she said.

RSV spreads like the common cold and other respiratory viruses, through close contact and from touching contaminated surfaces.

Doctors say the best way to prevent spreading or catching such viruses is to get children a flu shot and keep them at home when they are sick.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.