North Slope sees spike in children's respiratory virus

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Twelve children this winter have been sent to Anchorage from Barrow for treatment to fight a respiratory virus.

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There's been more cases in Barrow and some Inupiat villages of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a leading cause of serious respiratory infections in young children, said Julian Gonzalez, a physician at Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Barrow.

The regional hospital has treated 26 cases of people with the virus this year, a notable increase over previous years, Gonzalez said.

"A lot of kids have been pretty severely affected by it," he said.

Beth Funk, a state medical epidemiologist, said the state doesn't track RSV cases.

Twelve children, most under the age of 2, were put on breathing machines, Gonzalez said. The children were flown to Anchorage hospitals for more intensive treatment.

No one has died, he said. A couple of children weakened by the virus contracted a bacterial infection that led to pneumonia.

"I think they're all doing OK," he said.

The virus can cause the inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. To prevent the spread of the disease, health officials recommend washing hands regularly, disinfecting surfaces and protecting young children from being near people with a cold or flu.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, runny nose, cough and sometimes wheezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gonzalez said most nurses at the hospital are wearing surgical masks for protection. Patients who are coughing are being asked to wear masks, and officials have asked the healthy children not visit patients at the hospital.

The North Slope spike appears to have started in Wainwright, Gonzalez said. The village of 520 people west of Barrow had a higher-than-normal number of cases at the beginning of the year, he said.

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