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Pediatricians seeing early respiratory season as school starts

Posted at 7:59 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 07:57:17-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — As kids go back to school, local pediatricians are seeing a surge in respiratory illnesses.

Children's Hospital Colorado and across the country, pediatricians are seeing an early respiratory season. Viruses that aren't typical for this time of year such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are cropping up in settings like daycare, play dates, and schools.

Colorado Springs parent Rachael Gates knows RSV all too well.

"He was coughing a lot. It was loud and raspy, but then I was feeling like his breathing was getting worse," said Gates.

Her son contracted the virus in daycare a couple of years ago resulting in a hospital stay.

"I have asthma so my inclination was that he was having an asthma issue as well. So we took him in, and they said he seems OK because he is talking and looking at you. When they were listening to his chest, they couldn't hear asthma. It was when they put the pulse monitor on that they realized his oxygen levels were really low. To see your kid get hooked up to oxygen and then be told you have to stay overnight in a hospital is something no mom wants to hear," said Gates.

An experience that she calls terrifying, and that her sister is currently going through with her kids.

"My sister is in Chicago and was really nervous to put her six-month-old in daycare, but she didn't have a choice because she and her husband both work. She conquered her fear, put him in and he was there for three half-days, came home sick, and has RSV now. It made me think my choice to keep my kid home was the right choice because I can't handle it again," said Gates. "It wasn't even a kid in his room that had it, it was a kid in another room. Now not only does their sixth-month-old have it but her four-year-old daughter has it and she has it as well although from what they said it really doesn't hit adults the same way as kids."

Pediatricians at Children's Hospital Colorado say viruses that typically circulate in the wintertime are cropping up now.

"We are seeing a significantly early respiratory season. There are particular viruses that typically only circulate in the wintertime such as the viruses that cause croop and bronchiolitis. These are viruses that are normal in any given winter season. What is not normal is seeing them spike in the wintertime. This is a time when the kids we are seeing in the emergency departments and hospitals are generally here for other things. Not cough, runny nose, fevers, and breathing difficulty," said Dr. Kevin Carney, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Children's Hospital Colorado.

Children's Hospital Colorado along with other places across the country is seeing a huge spike in the number of kids being admitted into the hospital.

"We're battling seeing this normal RSV virus in a very different time of the year on top of what is happening with COVID. That is becoming a bigger problem with kids as we progress through
the pandemic," said Carney. "There are kids being admitted into the hospital with multiple viruses. So otherwise, healthy kids who get COVID on top of RSV and other viruses that cause things like croop," he continued.

While they don't know the exact reason for the surge, Carney says it's important families take precautions to stay safe and healthy.

"Good handwashing, if your child has the availability to get the vaccine for COVID please get it, wearing masks is something we very much support, not just for COVID. We saw last year that during the wintertime when the kids were wearing masks in indoor spaces with each other it positively impacted in a positive way the transmission of RSV and the common cold. Certainly when school gets back in, not sending your kids to school if they are sick. That will be an extremely important way to prevent them and others from getting sick," said Carney.

Carney expects the surge in respiratory illnesses to continue for the next couple of months. He encourages the community to work together so it doesn't continue into winter.

"If we don't take those proactive steps and have our parents in the community keeping an eye on this and helping to blunt some of the spread of this then it's going to continue for a while," said Carney.

For parents dealing with the virus right now.

"Trust your gut and if something doesn't seem right take your kid in to be checked because I feel like if I didn't know about asthma I would have thought it was a bad cold. Buy an oxygen monitor for keeping at home and wear your masks if your kids can," said Gates.

Carney also recommends kids with asthma or any underlying conditions take their medication on a daily basis and monitor symptoms. He also encourages them to get their flu shot this year to prevent any challenges down the road.