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ST. LOUIS – The masks are coming off and the respiratory viruses are coming on. There has been an unusual uptick in winter-like viruses in children in the St. Louis area. It seems the viruses are coming out of lockdown too.

“So, a number of our ER visits include patients with common respiratory viruses that we only see during winter months,” said Dr. Kurt Sobush, pulmonologist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

Cardinal Glennon is seeing a 20% increase in those winter-like viruses including RSV in children up to the age of 2.

“It’s a virus that can escalate beyond just the common cold to something that would include faster kind of breathing,” Sobush said. “It can increase fever, it can cause at least some difficulties with respiratory distress, where children can have an increased cough that doesn’t seem to quit.”

RSV germs typically spread by coughing and sneezing. Doctor say the reason RSV cases are increasing may be related to less mask wearing and less social distancing.

“I think a lot of people blow off at least certain sniffles, things here and there, at least in the summer. That maybe it’s just allergies or maybe it’s just something else altogether,” he said. “But we are seeing at least this uptick in some of the respiratory viruses that we’ve known to be serious in the past. I think it’s just something that we want parents to be cautious about.”

Sobush anticipates some parents will send their children to school with masks this fall regardless of whether or not their schools require them.

“I think there’s going to be certain situations where children will still be coming to school with masks being worn and I think that’s here to stay a little bit, especially when they are having viral symptoms, whereas they would otherwise go to school with just a little bit of nose sniffles,” he said.

And just as it was prior to the pandemic, doctors say good hand washing for children remains important to slow or stop the spread of viruses.