The Union County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Health are alerting residents that respiratory viruses are hitting communities hard. While many people are experiencing mild cold like illness, an increasing number of young children are requiring medical care from primary care offices, urgent cares, and children’s hospitals.

Local and state health officials encourage residents and families to continue to be vigilant as we head into the holiday seasons. Parents and caregivers are urged to watch for emergency symptoms in young children and seek medical care right away if emergency symptoms develop. People who are sick should stay home and follow existing sick policies set by employers, schools and daycares. Staying home when sick is especially important if you have a fever, diarrhea, and/or vomiting. Even without fever, people are most likely infectious early in their illness and throughout the time new symptoms are appearing. Staying home during this period is important to help limit the spread of illness.

Covering coughs and sneezes, good ventilation when indoors, wearing a mask when around others if ill or caring for ill family members, and frequent handwashing also help limit the spread of respiratory viruses. Getting a flu shot and staying up-to-date on COVID vaccination can reduce your risk for severe illness.

Since October, Ohio has seen a significant increase in Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), especially in young children. We are now starting to see increasing influenza activity as well. While both of these viruses circulate each year, children’s hospitals are sharing that respiratory viruses are hitting earlier and harder than most years.

“Every year children’s hospitals and pediatric practices experience winter viral illness such as RSV and influenza. We get busy in the winter months, staff up for that, and then it decreases. What’s really unique this year is it has come much earlier and volumes are much higher with higher acuity, married with ongoing staffing shortages,” said Dr. Rustin Morse, Chief Medical Officer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital during a Tuesday press conference held by the Ohio Department of Health.

While most respiratory illnesses in children are mild, similar to a cold, RSV and influenza can cause severe illness. In these instances, it is important to know when to seek emergency care. According to Dr. Dr. Patty Manning, Chief of Staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, parents of young children, especially babies less than six months of age need to watch closely for changes in eating/drinking, fatigue and excessive sleepiness, and changes in breathing.

“RSV starts for most children like a cold. If you see emergency signs & symptoms, especially in babies under 6 months of age, then you need to seek care right away. If your baby stops eating or drinking, stops having wet diapers, is extremely sleepy or lethargic, hard to wake up, or has changes in breathing – breathing extremely quickly, using neck muscles, stomach muscles, or rib muscles to breath, then you need to get care right away,” said Dr. Manning.

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