SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The RSV virus is being caught by some of South Dakota’s youngest residents earlier than in prior years.

“There are more (RSV) cases that we’re seeing earlier on,” said Jessica Winterboer, a respiratory therapist at Prairie Lakes Health hospital in Watertown.

“We are seeing an increase in RSV in young children,” said Bunny Christie, an infection preventionist with Brookings Health hospital. “The season did start earlier than average,” she said.

“We’d had had quite a run in-patients in the hospital with RSV. They are pretty sick,” Christie said. The children need more advanced care then they can receive at home, including supplemental oxygen, Christie said.

Christie said all children and adults can get RSV but it can affect them differently.

Some of the children and adults with RSV are being diagnosed at health care clinics.

Amy Albrecht, a doctorate nurse practitioner at the Huron Clinic, said she’s seeing cases of RSV earlier than in some prior years.

“I think it’s more common to talk about in kids because they seem to get a lot sicker,” Albrecht said. “We test them more frequently.”

Adults are getting RSV but testing adults is not as common unless their lungs are compromised or they have other complications, Albrecht said.

So far, she hasn’t referred to any positive RSV children or adults to the hospital, Albrecht said.

Infants to those about 2-years-of-age may be the most vulnerable to RSV. The Centers for Disease Control said those six months and younger and those with chronic illness or conditions are the most vulnerable.

Both hospitals have seen young children with RSV but only one has had elderly RSV patients.

“We also have been seeing in the adult population as well,” Winterboer said. “More of the elderly or immunocompromised patient….”

Brookings has not had an elderly RSV patient as of Monday but Christie expects that to change after the holidays. Elderly people may be around more young children, including grandchildren during the holidays, which can expose them to RSV, Christie said.

While RSV is making the rounds, so is flu.

As of the week of Nov. 12, there were 493 lab confirmed cases of influenza A in South Dakota, according to the state department of health. Sixteen people have been hospitalized as of that date. There are 529 total confirmed flu cases that include the 439 influenza A cases.

“The last three weeks we’ve been hit hard with colds, RSV, the flu…,” Albrecht said.

“We haven’t had to report any inpatient (as of yet). Thankfully, no in-patients in the hospital,” Christie said.

“We’ve seem some flu but not as much as the RSV,” Winterboer said.

Winterboer said parents are trying to stay on top of RSV cases by getting their children checked out if they suspect RSV or for example, a child at the day care has gotten RSV.

It can be tough to figure out if a child has a cold or RSV or the flu because “kids always seem to have a runny nose,” at certain times of the year, Albrecht said.

But, if a child is struggling to breath, wheezing, the diaper is dry and there is noticeable sucking in of the skin in the rib or neck area that can be serious and the child should be seen by a provider in a clinic or other setting, including the emergency room, Albrecht said.

“Kids can get sick very, very quickly,” Albrecht said.

The CDC list of RSV symptoms includes wheezing, fever, loss or decrease in appetite and others.

Albrecht said parents have brought in young children and infants for RSV tests because although the child is showing strong symptoms, they want to make sure before bringing the child to day care, Albrecht said.

Snotty noses and unwashed hands

Children can spread the RSV or flu virus easily because they may not wash their hands thoroughly and may not blow or wipe their nose well, Christie said.

The stuffy noses can be extremely difficult for infants and those under two because of the ability to blow their nose, Winterboer said.

“Infants and children don’t know how to blow their nose,” Winterboer said. “When you
(adult) have a cold, you don’t go too far from a Kleenex box.”

Infants and young children will struggle to breath if their nose is plugged.

Winterboer said parents can teach children to blow their nose but they may also need to suction out the child’s nose to clear the mucus.

Winterboer said parents can even get a six month old used to a Kleenex by wiping their nose. Blowing can be part of the teaching even if the six month old is blowing through their mouth. As they get older teach them to blow their nose into a Kleenex. Try to make nose blowing and hand washing a fun activity such as singing a song while washing hands, she said.

Good hand hygiene is important for kids but also adults, Christie and Winterboer said.

What’s ahead for the pesky viruses?

“It is a concern that it (RSV) has started so soon and that’s it going at a steady pace. I hope that’s not a predictor of what’s to come. Is this going to be it or is it going to continue on into the winter season,” Winterboer said.

Although RSV and the flu are here earlier than other years, Albrecht said she’s not worried about the future months. “Every year can be different,” she said. And so far, there is no negative impact on hospital bed use.

“Part of the reason for the increase in RSV and influenza, is, we are all tired of COVID,” Christie said. That has caused people to gather more and possibly ignore safety measures that apply when someone is sick, she said.

But RSV and the flu are here and COVID is still lingering, Christie said.

“Definitely not too late to get vaccinated,” Christie said of flu vaccines. The flu season is generally from October 1 through March 31.

Both Winterboer and Christie said if someone has flu or RSV or COVID symptoms, they should stay home until they feel better. That could also mean missing a planned Thanksgiving gathering.

Although RSV and the flu could peak and then, ramp up again after Christmas, Albrecht said, when it comes to kids and the spread, “kids are together all the time.”

Kids are in school and day care together so the holidays may not be the biggest factor in spreading RSV or the flu, Albrecht said.

Individuals have been getting their flu shots at the clinic in Huron but it’s not more than in prior years, Albrecht said.

There is more talk about the COVID vaccination, Albrecht said.

Christie said it’s also not too late to get vaccinated for COVID.