NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — North Dakota Health and Human Services (HHS) has received reports of increased numbers of pediatric hospitalizations due to respiratory syncytial virus, otherwise known as RSV.

According to a news release, due to the current increased activity, HHS is encouraging broader testing for RSV among young children and older adults who have acute (severe) respiratory illness.

RSV is a virus that is primarily spread via respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, and through direct contact with a contaminated surface.

The most common symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing.

RSV can also cause more severe infections such as bronchiolitis, inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.

Infants, young children, and older adults with chronic medical conditions are at risk of severe disease from RSV infection.

RSV is the most common cause of these conditions in children under one year of age in the United States.

“Sanford Health Bismarck is seeing an earlier respiratory syncytial virus season in infants and young children,” said Dr. Christina DaSilva, a pediatrician with Sanford Health. “If your child has difficulty breathing or there are any parental concerns, please contact your medical provider immediately.” 

Some babies are at higher risk for severe RSV illness and should receive a prescription for palivizumab (Synagis®) to prevent RSV.

Parents of babies who are eligible for palivizumab should consult their child’s healthcare provider.

Eligible babies may include:

  • Preemies: infants who are born prematurely
  • Babies with certain lung issues
  • Babies with certain heart issues
  • Other infants with high-risk conditions may also be eligible, talk to your child’s healthcare provider

“There are several steps that everyone can take to prevent the spread of RSV this fall,” said HHS epidemiologist Levi Schlosser. “If you have symptoms of RSV, be sure to stay home, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue as well as wash your hands often with soap and water.” 

To prevent RSV, people should do the following:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Avoid taking your baby into large crowds
  • Don’t smoke around your baby (or at all)
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces frequently, including toys
  • If possible, limit the time babies spend in child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings, especially during non-summer months
  • Stay up to date on routine immunizations, including the influenza vaccine, to prevent illness and hospitalization due to other diseases

RSV infections occur primarily during the fall and winter.

In the United States, RSV leads to an annual average of approximately 58,000 hospitalizations, with 100-500 deaths among children younger than five years old and 177,000 hospitalizations with 14,000 deaths among adults 65 or older.

For more information on RSV, visit the CDC’s website.