Respiratory virus on rise locally

January 18, 2019

Doctors in Fort Wayne are seeing an uptick in the number of cases of children sickened by respiratory synctial virus : a common, typically mild winter illness that can lead to more serious health problems.

“Every day, we’re seeing more cases come in,” said Dr. Stefanie Paulson, who treats children with RSV at Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Hospitals are not required to report cases of the illness, so it is not clear how many local children have been diagnosed. But physicians with Lutheran and Parkview Health warned Thursday that parents and caretakers should take precautions to help prevent RSV and stop its spread.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said discussions with local doctors have yielded anecdotal evidence of an increase in the number of patients treated for RSV.

The virus usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms including runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. It can be more serious for infants and older adults, causing pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs.

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children less than a year old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus leads to more than 2 million outpatient visits among children younger than 5 each year, the agency reported. The U.S. averages more than 57,500 hospitalizations of young children for RSV each year, according to the CDC.

Doctors often begin seeing cases around mid-September, and “RSV season” can stretch into the spring, government data show.

It’s difficult to determine what is causing the spike, but Dr. Tony GiaQuinta of Parkview said RSV and other respiratory illnesses are quickly passed around child care facilities.

“Once it’s here it comes fast, and it is extremely contagious,” he said.

GiaQuinta and others who spoke at a news conference Thursday at Parkview’s Mirro Center for Research and Innovation urged parents with sick children to keep them home to blunt the spread of RSV. Caretakers should also wash hands often and make use of hand sanitizer, they said.


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