Cases of a potentially life-threatening respiratory virus that mostly affects babies and young children have risen 40 percent in Arizona this season when compared with the same period last year, health officials said.
As of Nov. 24, 70 cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, had been reported statewide, the Arizona Daily Star reported .
The majority of cases were in Maricopa, Navajo and Pinal counties. A dozen cases were reported in Pinal County.
Clarisse Tsang, acting infectious disease and epidemiology program manager for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said RSV typically peaks in February, so even though the numbers are up from this time last year, it's difficult to say if this season will be worse than others.
Eighty-nine percent of the Arizona cases so far this season have been in children under age 5. Most children are infected with the virus by their second birthday, but only a small percentage develops severe disease. There is no vaccine against RSV.
Symptoms include a fever, reduced appetite, runny nose, cough and wheezing. Older children and adults may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, cough and a feeling of general sickness.
The virus also can lead to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, in children and adults. Some of those infected, particularly babies, may need to be hospitalized.
The virus can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. Direct and indirect transmissions of the virus usually occur when people touch an infectious secretion and then rub their eyes or nose.
Preventative measures include hand-washing, covering coughs, avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke and avoiding unnecessary exposure to crowds. Parents and other loved ones who have cold-like symptoms should avoid kissing children.
Tsang said parents should keep children home if they are showing any signs of illness to avoid infecting others. Doctors may prescribe an antibody treatment of monthly shots to high-risk babies and toddlers for the five months of season. But the drug can't prevent infection with the virus, it is expensive, and it can't help cure or treat children already suffering from serious respiratory syncytial virus disease.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved.