"Children's Emergency"
RSV is a scourge of young children this season. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

RSV continues to plague children, and may be one of the worst seasons for the virus in years.

Respiratory syncytial virus hit earlier than usual, said Dan McGee, MD, a pediatric hospitalist with Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. And it has hit hard.

“In the 35 years I’ve been doing this, I don’t know that I have ever seen RSV come on so strong,” Dr. McGee told Today.com. “Not to make people panic, but this year seems to be particularly bad.”

Typically, the emergency department sees an upswing in cases after Christmas. This year, the children’s hospital saw a huge influx in cases starting in November, and it hasn’t eased up.

“It has hit very hard and very early this year,” Dr. McGee said.

So far this season, the children’s hospital in West Michigan has seen a 175% increase in cases from the previous season.

“This is not just a local thing, this is a nationwide issue,” Dr. McGee said.

So far, RSV cases outnumber flu cases, he said. However, he cautioned that flu is also on the rise.

4 things Dr. McGee says everyone should know about RSV:

Q: Who gets ill with RSV?

Adults may contract and have respiratory symptoms from RSV, but children are more apt to get it than adults. Symptoms for adults include a cough and runny nose, which is typically not problematic.

Premature babies and young children with weak immune systems are usually more severely impacted by the virus.

“Anyone at any age can be infected with RSV, but the younger you are, the more serious it can be,” Dr. McGee said.

Q: How is RSV spread?

Since it is a virus that infects tissue in the lungs, it is easy to contract. Coughing, sneezing and touching your face can contribute to contracting RSV.

“And don’t let people kiss your baby,” Dr. McGee said. “You don’t know how healthy that person is.”

Q: How can I prevent it?

We see more RSV in winter months because of closed doors and windows. Recycled air can spread germs.

Preventive measures include staying away from sick people, washing your hands, and disinfecting door knobs, counters, and other hard surfaces in your home and items your children touch. Also, limit exposure to large groups of people where someone may be ill.

Q: When should I be concerned?

RSV appears as a mild to moderate cold in older children and adults.

In younger children—particularly infants—symptoms of RSV are much more serious. The virus may cause inflammation in the airways, making it hard to breathe.

If your child is not eating well or has difficulty breathing, seek medical care immediately.