MEMPHIS, Tenn.– Doctors nationwide have sounded the alarm about the common illness respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, which can cause severe breathing problems for children under the age of two. 

In the Mid-South, doctors say they’re seeing a big rise too.

Dr. Sandy Arnold, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, said it’s typical to see RSV this time of year.

“For bronchiolitis which is a plugging of inflammation of the small airways of the lungs which leads to difficulty breathing, difficulty feeding,” she said. “We’re seeing this earlier than we normally do. The numbers are very high compared to what we normally see. This is turning into a bad RSV season.”

Dr. Arnold said the first fall of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, they didn’t deal with a bad RSV breakout. They saw a surge in 2021 when restrictions were lifted.

“The emergency room is full to overflowing. We’re seeing both RSV and influenza and they’re having trouble moving patients out of the emergency room into the hospital, our beds are all completely full,” she said.

This summer, the numbers started coming back as children headed back to school without masks. 

“We had many susceptible children because we haven’t had a lot of these viruses around and the immunity does wane over time. So if you haven’t been exposed to a virus in several years we’re all pretty much sitting ducks at this point,” Arnold said.

She advises parents to not send their children to school when they are sick to limit the number of children being exposed to viruses but acknowledges that can be difficult with varying work schedules for families.

Dr. Arnold also encourages families to get their flu shot and COVID vaccine.