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In the age of Covid-19, many parents became hyper-aware of every sniffle, sneeze, and cough from their children. While that particular fear might have eased slightly, there’s another virus caregivers and kids need to be on the lookout for this winter.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is very common; most children contract it by age two without issue. This year’s outbreak, however, has experts especially concerned. Across the country, states are seeing unusually high case numbers and more incidences of severe illness and hospitalization for young children. This leads researchers to suspect that the loosening of Covid-era protections, such as masking and social distancing, combined with the lessened exposure to regular childhood germs, has created a perfect environment for RSV to hit hard. While RSV is typically a mild cold-like illness, for young children and older adults, it can be much more serious, developing into severe bronchitis or pneumonia. This occurs because smaller lungs and weaker muscles have trouble clearing mucus secretions, making breathing, eating, and drinking difficult.

Fortunately, the precautions people can take against RSV are simple. Frequent hand washing, staying hydrated, keeping hands off faces, and sanitizing surfaces go a long way. Most importantly, children (and especially young infants) should stay away from any adults who are/have recently been ill. Keeping up to date on other vaccinations and boosters is also recommended.

If you suspect your child may have RSV, a call to the pediatrician should be your first move. This avoids potentially infecting other patients, and the doctor should be able to determine what care and treatment would be appropriate. Some common recommendations for relief are saline nose drops, steamy showers, humidifiers, and fever-relieving medicine. Honey may be given to children over the age of 1 to soothe a sore throat. If your child is working extra hard to breathe, seek more intensive care. A trip to the ER may be in order for oxygen, suctioning, and IV fluids.

Winter viruses can be scary, but staying aware and being prepared are the best ways to keep your family healthy and happy all season long.