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THURSDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- Many pediatric hospital admissions involve a common virus that infects the lungs and airways and can lead to serious illness in young children and people with weakened immune systems, an expert says.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a leading cause of bronchiolitis -- an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs -- in infants younger than a year old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is an extremely contagious virus, so it can easily be spread from one child to another in a school or home setting. We continue to see a large amount of kids being admitted to the hospital this year due to RSV. Though it often peaks in winter, the virus may continue to affect communities through early spring," Dr. Rahul Bhatia, a pediatric intensive care unit physician at Loyola University Health System, said in a Loyola news release.
"Though younger children have a greater chance of being hospitalized due to the virus, any age group can be affected," Bhatia said.
There is no vaccine to protect against the virus. "RSV is easily spread by touching infected people and surfaces, so washing your child's and your own hands often is the best way to prevent it from being spread," Bhatia stated in the news release.
The symptoms of RSV may appear to be similar to those of the common cold, and may vary with age. Parents should call a doctor if a child with an apparent cold has the following symptoms: difficulty breathing, nasal flaring, decreased appetite or decreased urine output. Parents should go to the emergency room if their child has trouble breathing or is a dusky color, Bhatia advised.
"There are numerous viruses that can cause respiratory infections. The only way to know if it is RSV is to have testing done," Bhatia said. "RSV has been around for a while. It's nothing new, just every once in a while we see a spike in cases and this happens to be one of those years."
The Nemours Foundation has more about respiratory syncytial virus.