Pediatric units in hospitals across Los Angeles are beginning to see an increase in respiratory syncytial virus or RSV among young children, which can become a serious infection of the lungs in infants.
Children's Hospital Los Angeles saw 15 cases on Monday, compared to 15 all of last week, said Dr. Jeffrey Bender, infectious diseases specialist at Children's.
The virus is common, and in most adults and older children, the symptoms resemble a cold. But Bender and other medical experts cautioned that RSV is spread easily through contact with siblings, in school or in group gatherings. Babies with RSV can run a high fever and suffer with labored breathing.
That's when parents should bring the child to the hospital, Bender said.
"The RSV season is definitely here," Bender said. "This is a very common virus. It's (a droplet) spread by contact. Any time you get groups of people together, you're at risk. The kids who get the most sick are those born prematurely, have heart disease, or have underlying lung disease."
The virus is being tracked by Kaiser Permanente and is appearing across Southern California, said Dr. Margaret Stone, chief of pediatric medicine at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills.
"In the last two weeks, regionally, from San Diego, to the Inland Empire, to Ventura County, we've seen an uptick," Stone said. "We are all experiencing a large increase. Whether that's just the beginning of this, or we're peaking now, is unknown.
At Northridge Hospital Medical Center, health professionals saw five cases this week, up from one or two every other day, said Roy Boukidjian, the department manager for infection control at Northridge Hospital.
He said it's not rude to tell relatives, strangers, or anyone else who wants to hug or kiss a baby, to wash their hands.
"If someone wants that contact, just make sure that person washes their hands," he said. "RSV lives on the hand for at least an hour."
Dr. Cesar Chavarria, medical director for the pediatric intensive care unit at Providence Tarzana Medical Center said so far the hospital hasn't had any dramatic increases. But it's early.
"This RSV virus peaks in mid-February and is gone by April 15, tax day," he said.
Although RSV is unrelated to influenza, medical experts noted that the flu season is starting up now, too.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement recently that flu activity began early in 2012 across the nation, and has been especially harsh in the Southeast.
There have been two deaths in California so far, including a 51-year-old Fountain Valley man who died of influenza-B-related disease last week.
Influenza can be prevented with a flu shot.
"Flu season is just now starting in Southern California," Stone said. "We're really trying to emphasize that it's not too late for people to get their flu shots."