La Crosse hospital staff seeing ‘significant’ RSV virus infections in children

An additional virus spreading in the community keeping doctors' attention as school begins

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Doctors are warning parents — COVID-19 shouldn’t be the only virus on their radar. Flu season is approaching, and cases of another virus that can be dangerous for babies are on the rise.

It’s déjà vu for hospitals around the country as sick patients seek help from doctors. Gundersen Health System’s hospital beds are filling up, but not with COVID-19 infected adults. It’s a completely different virus, and the patients are children. Illness is part of the calendar year.

“It’s a virus that’s in our community basically every single year,” said Dr. Nicole Hennessy, a pediatric hospitalist at Gundersen Health System. “That in adults would cause the common cold.”

The timing of these illnesses is what raises the eyebrows of doctors.

“Our season is usually November to March. It started really, really early this year,” Hennessy said. “We started seeing RSV all the way back in July which is a big surprise.”

For children two years old and younger, RSV or respiratory syncytial virus can cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

“We have a small amount of COVID, but a significant amount of RSV,” she said.

The Department of Health Services Weekly Respiratory Report shows that as of Aug. 21, 1,630 patients have been tested for RSV, and 298 were positive; 18 percent of those cases are positive. The seven-day average for COVID-19 in Wisconsin this week is 8.4 percent. COVID-19 cases among children are not a concern for doctors at the moment.

“I’m a little bit more optimistic,” said Dr. Joe Poterucha, who specialized in pediatric medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System. “If anything, we’ve seen sort of a downswing in census.”

This is why doctors are encouraging masks in schools as the winter months, where viruses thrive, approach the community.

“The older kids get it and they don’t get that sick,” Hennessy said. “But they can pass it on to their little siblings.”

The best prevention hand washing, if you’re sick stay home. And if you’re indoors the experts recommend wearing a mask. The symptoms of RSV and COVID-19 are relatively the same. Health leaders say it’s best for children to get tested for both.


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