DES MOINES, Iowa -- Flu season is ramping up in Iowa, but there's another virus that has health officials concerned.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) may be trailing only influenza in central Iowa viruses, but it may be just as lethal.
"Potentially fatal. We have our hospital full with infants and children with multiple viral illnesses, but RSV is one of our most prevalent," said Carrie O'Brien of UnityPoint Health. Children 12 months old and younger are most vulnerable. O'Brien said, "Hopefully they will survive that infection, but there are those that do not unfortunately."
Iowa Department of Public Health Medical Director and State Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati says there's one glaring difference between the flu and RSV. "Unfortunately, there are other viruses we don't have vaccines for, and RSV is an example of one of those."
In response, Des Moines' UnityPoint hospitals are prohibiting expecting families from touring maternity wards for the entire month of January. O'Brien said, "It could be weeks. It could be months."
They are also encouraging visitors with friends and family receiving any type of care to stay away. "Being able to provide the best patient care for those individuals unfortunately does mean we are asking to limit people that they come in contact with that are not 100 percent pertinent to their care," said O'Brien.
With no vaccine for RSV, it's actually the best option for a virus that spreads from coughing, sneezing or kissing babies. "If you reduce the number of times people interact, you reduce the number of times the virus can move from one person to the next," said Dr. Pedati. To help prevent coughing and sneezing, get a flu shot. Pedati said, "Wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home when you are sick."
The Polk County Health Department is open Monday through Friday for walk-in flu shots. Since Christmas, they say they've seen an uptick in patients. One of the contributing factors may be in December when a 4-year-old Waterloo girl contracted the flu virus and went blind. She was not vaccinated.
Nola Aigner-Davis serves as the public information officer with the Polk County Health Department and said, "If you are not getting your flu shot, this is when we see people hospitalized, this is when we see even the healthy die. So I think people are starting to take that seriously and getting their flu shot."
UnityPoint is offering virtual tours at all of their Des Moines hospitals. You can take the tours by clicking on the links below.
Iowa Methodist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgzlTAB5Wb0&feature=emb_logo
Iowa Lutheran: https://vimeo.com/354243814
Methodist West: https://vimeo.com/370141014