Babies hospitalized in NC after highly contagious virus spreads early in season

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — Like most parents, Abigail Hoyle takes precautions to keep her 9-month-old son healthy.

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She knows about respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, a highly contagious respiratory virus that infects the lungs and can lead to serious health problems for babies under 1-year-old.

What she didn't know until WSOC-TV told her is that doctors at Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, North Carolina are already seeing babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit with RSV and lack of oxygen.

Doctors at Catawba Valley Medical Center said that they typically don't see patients with the virus until after Thanksgiving.

"Makes me feel nervous about going out," said Hoyle.

Neonatologist Dr. Samuel Wellman said that RSV cases this early means the season is starting earlier or will be worse than usual.

“It has a very high infection rate," said Wellman.

People of school age up to adults who have RSV likely never know it, and tend to just have cold symptoms.

"Even a cold could be RSV and you may not know it. So you can't take any chances with his health because something we might get over in a week, he could be hospitalized for," said Hoyle.

RSV is very common. In fact, the CDC said almost all children will have had the virus by their second birthday, but there's no vaccine or treatment for it.

"What the parents need to know is if their baby has cold symptoms, they probably don't need to go to the pediatrician. If their baby starts having very rapid breathing or sort of having retractions, having a hard time, sucking in when they breathe, or having trouble feeding because of breathing, they need to see a pediatrician," said Wellman.

Hoyle said she'll continue to take extra precautions.

"Probably just keep him inside and away from public sooner even, which is hard because of the holiday season coming up and going to visit family."

Doctors said there is a possible silver lining. The earlier the season for RSV starts, the earlier it tends to end, which is usually around March or April.