Respiratory syncytial virus, a common pathogen that affects most children by age 2, causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While for most healthy adults and older children the symptoms are not severe — close to the common cold, the Mayo Clinic reports — for infants, older adults and anyone with a weak immune system, RSV can be more serious.
On Wednesday, Geisinger Lewistown Hospital announced temporary restrictions prohibiting children under 5 from visiting children’s and women’s inpatient units. The restrictions are in response to seasonal upticks in pediatric RSV cases.
“This time each year, the number of RSV infections in children rise precipitously,” Dr. Michael Ryan, a pediatrician and chairman of Geisinger’s Women’s and Children’s Institute, said in a statement. “It is typical for hospitals to initiate sibling visitor restrictions to children’s and women’s inpatient areas for the protection of our patients. This is an annual practice and is usually lifted at the end of the winter season.”
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Last winter’s flu season was particularly intractable due to a resistive viral strain, experts said. Age-related visitor restrictions are pro forma for hospitals to protect patients with less-robust immune systems such as infants and older adults.
According to the CDC, there are 57,527 children 5 or younger hospitalized each year and 177,000 among adults 65 or older from RSV infections, which usually appear from late October until early April.
In the Northeastern U.S., RSV cases were highest in February during 2016. The National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System found the cases have jumped from nearly 0 percent in October to 15 percent in December.