Virus 'a good-sized epidemic'

Doctors report explosion in local RSV cases

— It's a great time of year to wash your hands.

Winter is the season for influenza, the common cold and RSV, a related illness that, if unchecked, can be very harmful to infants and toddlers.

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, recently has hit Steamboat Springs hard.

Dr. Ron Famiglietti of Ped--iatrics of Steamboat said he has seen at least one RSV-stricken child in his office every day for the past 10 days, some with serious cases.

"We admitted several kids to the hospital with it over the weekend," Famiglietti said Thursday. The children, infants and toddlers required extra oxygen because the illness inflamed their lower airway, he said.

Dr. Steve Ross, a pediatrician at Sleeping Bear Ped--iatrics in Steamboat, said he has seen a significant jump in RSV cases in young people and adults.

"We're in the middle of a good-sized epidemic," Ross said. "We're just seeing a great deal of RSV right now. I'm afraid (that) for the next six weeks we're going to keep seeing a lot of it."

For infants, young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, RSV can be a critical threat. Symptoms can include runny nose, wheezing, a wet-sounding cough and possibly a low-grade fever.

"Generally, it looks and feels like a cold," said Christine McKelvie, public relations director at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

McKelvie is no stranger to RSV.

"Every winter, a whole new group of people are introduced to that three-letter anagram," she said. "All of a sudden, people are aware of it."

In her Monday Medical column that appears in the Steamboat Today, McKelvie wrote that "RSV is hardy and can live on clothing and surfaces such as door handles, shopping carts and toys for up to seven hours. Children's tendency to explore their world by touching naturally promotes the spread of RSV. Therefore, it is important to teach and practice frequent and thorough hand washing in order to prevent transmission of RSV disease."

Famiglietti also stressed the importance of hand washing to prevent the spread of the "extremely contagious" virus that can be difficult to recognize.

"In older kids, it's almost impossible to tell the difference between RSV and the common cold," he said. "Infants and toddlers generally develop some wheezing and difficulty breathing, along with inflammation in the lower airways. For the children with lower airway involvement, sometimes they respond to medicines we use for asthma, like Albuterol, but many times all you can do is support them and wait for them to get better."

Most children will have symptoms of RSV for one to two weeks, Famiglietti said.

Ross said a medicine called Synagis provides an antibody that can treat RSV, but it is "very expensive," primarily for babies younger than 35 weeks old and must be taken once a month.

Dr. Louise Thielen, pediatrician with Steamboat Med--ical Group, said the best cure for RSV usually is cold medicine, rest and comfort. While she has not seen the recent rush that Famiglietti and Ross have, Thielen said RSV's peak season usually is from January to April. This year's flu peak, she said, may come within the next couple weeks.

The "very aggressive" RSV virus likely will still be going strong, Ross said.

"I'm afraid to say even through March, probably through April, we'll be seeing this virus in our daycares and preschools," Ross said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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