KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Every cold and flu season, a common childhood illness hospitalizes nearly 60,000 children under the age of 5 years old: Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.

The virus is highly contagious, especially around newborns.

Dr. Heather Radu, an ER physician at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, stopped by the WATE 6 On Your Side studios to share more about RSV.

According to Dr. Radu, ETCH is already seeing patients with RSV this year.

“The season just started and we’ve treated six patients who tested positive for RSV. Last season was particularly tough,” Radu said. “We treated more than a thousand cases of RSV, with many of those young patients ending up in our intensive care unit.”

What is RSV? How does it spread?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a contagious infection of the lungs and breathing passages, spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes.

What are complications that can occur with RSV?

RSV can cause other respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia and can cause rapid dehydration if a child is refusing to eat and drink.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Symptoms may include normal cold symptoms, including high fever, plus the following:

  • Fast breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Head bobbing with breathing
  • Rhythmic grunting during breathing
  • Belly breathing, tugging between their ribs, and/or tugging at the lower neck
  • Wheezing
  • Signs of dehydration may include sunken eyes, lack of tears or urine, listlessness

Bring your child to the ER if they’re having trouble breathing.

Preventing RSV

Health professionals say to remember to wash hands regularly and clean surfaces with disinfectant; parents should also keep school-aged children with a cold away from babies until symptoms have passed.