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Arizona is reporting RSV case counts 10 times higher than average right now

The virus known as RSV is  surging nationwide and children’s hospitals are bracing for what could be a difficult winter.

In Arizona, respiratory syncytial virus caseloads have recently been about 10 times higher than medical experts would expect for this time of year. The  Arizona Department of Health Services reports the five-season average for late October is 56 RSV cases per week. But last week, the state health department reported 581 cases.

"We are definitely seeing a high number of RSV cases," Dr. Wassim Ballan division chief of infectious diseases at Phoenix Children’s Hospital told KJZZ News. "This is the same thing that's happening around the country."

Ballan said the unseasonably high load is concerning.

“The numbers are still going up, so we don’t know when that peak is going to be," Ballan said. 

RSV cases usually don’t reach a peak in Arizona until January, according to state health department records. And Ballan said flu and COVID-19 cases are now  on the rise too.

“That might create this kind of surge in all respiratory viruses happening at the same time," Ballan said. 

The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list runny nose, coughing, fever and decreased appetite among RSV's symptoms. Ballan said the virus is very common and it may look like a mild cold in older children. But in infants younger than 6 months, or children with asthma or other underlying health conditions, Ballan said it can pose a serious risk.

“If they look like they’re breathing too fast, or if they’re coughing a lot, their neck and chest wall is sinking in when they’re breathing, those are all signs of respiratory distress, which means the child is struggling to be able to breathe," Ballan said, adding if your child is showing those symptoms, contact the child's pediatrician, or take them to the hospital.

There is no vaccine for RSV, but Ballan said keeping up-to-date on flu and COVID-19 vaccines and boosters will help keep families healthy and will help prevent hospitals from overcrowding this winter. 

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.