Child flu, RSV, COVID symptoms; what to be aware of this season

A fever, cough, shortness of breath: This winter, it could be hard to tell which virus your child may be fighting – RSV, flu or COVID-19.

"It’s been a confluence of like three hurricanes hitting at once with these three viruses," said Dr. Gregory DeMuri, a pediatric disease specialist with UW Health. 

DeMuri said both flu and RSV cases are already hitting hospitals hard; it's usually not until January that doctors start to see such infections.

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"Just the amount of illness it’s causing. Lot of kids sick, out of school, out of day care and a lot of hospitalizations," said DeMuri.

Because all three viruses are respiratory, DeMuri said symptoms are similar. Usually, those symptoms will get better on their own, but when should parents be concerned?

"If they’re having trouble breathing – like getting air, breathing fast or tugging at their chest – then they should see medical attention right away," said DeMuri.

In the UW Health system, DeMuri said 27% of kids have the flu and 14% have RSV; last year, those numbers were 3% and 5%, respectively.

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"We’re seeing a substantial rise in cases," said Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County's chief health policy advisor.

Weston said not enough people are vaccinated for the flu, only 27% of county residents getting the shot.

"Even as COVID is stable and RSV is showing some signs of declining, when you put them together, these three viruses sure make it challenging and put a lot of strain on clinics, emergency departments and hospitals," said Weston.

The best thing you can do is wash your hands and keep an eye on loved ones' symptoms.

Doctors say hydration is key when it comes to bettering a child's symptoms. There is also an RSV preventative medication for high-risk kids; if that applies to your child, contact your doctor.