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Very contagious respiratory virus affecting children expected to hit central New York soon

Ellen Abbott
Dr. Jana Shaw says the virus could be more widespread than first thought because it has similar symptoms to the common cold.

Infection control officials at Syracuse's Golisano Children’s Hospital believe it’s not an issue of if a respiratory virus that’s storming the country ends up in New York state, but when. Jana Shaw, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, says there are no confirmed cases yet in New York, but she doesn’t expect that to be the case for long because the virus is very contagious.

“I’m very concerned that it will arrive to New York state as well," Shaw said. "I wonder whether school openings have something to do with the spread of the epidemic because mostly young school-aged children are affected by this virus. And what’s particularly troubling is that a significant portion of the children infected end up admitted to the hospital.”

She says the virus is spread through close contact.

"Sneezing, coughing can spread it very easily," she explained. "Sharing cups, saliva can spread this virus as well.”

She says the virus can also spread on surfaces. Shaw expects it is more widespread than reported because it involves the same symptoms as a common cold, including cough, sore throat and aches.  

“Usually when we have a cold you don’t go to a doctor and you’re not being tested for this unusual virus," Shaw said. "So a lot of children, and a lot more people in the community, will be infected and we will not look for it.”

But the problem is that some children afflicted by the virus are ending up in the hospital with respiratory problems; most but not all of those cases involve children with underlying health issues.

“If you have a child who has underlying asthma and he starts coughing, make sure you’re on top of his asthma treatment," Shaw said. "Make sure you have a nebulizer or inhaler at home. Make sure you talk to your provider and alert him early about your child’s respiratory symptoms.”

To keep the virus at bay, Shaw suggests good hand washing for children and adults and keep sneezes and coughs in shirt sleeves or a tissue. Shaw says it’s unclear what has brought this virus alive, adding it’s one that generally is only active in the summer and fall months.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.