Doctors warn parents about RSV, respiratory viruses spreading earlier than usual in children

Minnesota doctors are warning parents that respiratory viruses are spreading earlier in the year than normal, and they can be life-threatening.

Doctors expect to see a lot of sick children in the winter, but it's only October and the symptoms are already here.

"We've seen a lot of kids with runny nose, coughs, colds. A lot of respiratory illnesses have been emerging, and they've been emerging early in the season," said Dr. Krishnan Subrahmanian, a pediatrician with Hennepin Healthcare.

Pediatricians like Subrahmanian are warning families about rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is the most common cause of pneumonia in children under a year old.

"Our RSV season usually starts in November, December and goes in through March. This year, we saw lots of hospitalizations in September, and we’re continuing to see it," Subrahmanian said.

In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, there were 103 hospitalities in September, 52 in August and 48 in July because of RSV, according to an advisory the Minnesota Department of Health recently sent to health care providers.

The last two years brought lower levels of respiratory illnesses as children stayed home and families took COVID-19 precautions. Now, Minnesota is experiencing pre-pandemic levels, if not more.

"We're back to a busy respiratory season," Subrahmanian said. "All parents, all families and all pediatricians know that our winter season is always busy, and we're going to be back to that but with a particularly vulnerable population of kids who have not seen many of these viruses. So I think it will be worse than the last couple of years in terms of this spread of lots of different viruses."

Doctors also expect a lot of flu activity this year but don't yet know how bad COVID-19 will be. They're asking people to get vaccinated against both, especially because there's no RSV vaccine.

"While (RSV) may start as a cold, we know that particularly for children under a year, under six months, these can be life-threatening illnesses," Subrahmanian said.

State health officials recommend parents keep their children home from daycare if they're sick, even if they test negative for COVID-19. If they're having trouble breathing, or can't stay hydrated, it's time to see a doctor.