The Florida Department of Health is monitoring increased cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV, which typically infects children under the age of five.
When the pandemic first hit, the staff at Imagination Station in St. Petersburg increased sanitizing efforts.
"We have a nightly fumigation system that comes through and fumigates our building, our toys, any touchable areas, for the children the night before they arrived," daycare owner Jackie Lang said.
With an already heightened safety protocol for COVID-19 and an awareness of RSV, Lang says she's tightening restrictions on sick kids.
"With our children that come in with the common runny nose and a cough. We're asking the parents to keep the children at home until they are symptom-free," she said.
According to the CDC's alert, the South is seeing a spike in cases. The agency's data shows on average, 58,000 kids under the age of five are hospitalized every year. Between 100 and 500 children die.
"We weren't really expecting to see this surge," Dr. John Prpich with St. Joseph's Children's Hospital said.
Each region of Florida has different RSV seasons. Our area typically starts seeing cases in September, and then they fall off by April.
According to the Florida Department of Health, there's about a 7% positivity rate for children under the age of five who were diagnosed with RSV at an ER or urgent care.
"We followed that virology very closely. So usually, when we get a virology that's around 10% or higher for more than two weeks. That's when we call the season, you know, the beginning of the season," Dr. Prpich said. "And this year during that time period, during September, October through March and even into April, we never even got above 8%. We were usually two, four, 6% at the highest," Dr. Prpich said.
Now Dr. Prpich says we're at 35% when normal ranges would be between 10 and 25%. Here's his theory on why we could be seeing an off-season increase.
"We presume it's related to kind of loosening of mask mandates, loosening of just general behaviors a little bit and bringing our children together in groups," he said.
RSV presents symptoms of a common cold or allergies, but Dr. Prpich says there are a couple of red flags.
"You may see kind of some tugging or, or sucking in at the top of their chest, kind of right below the throat. Or in between the ribs. We call those retractions, but that's just indicating that they're working hard to breathe," he said. "Sometimes I tell moms it's like, they sound a bit like Darth Vader."
He says some children are more vulnerable to contract RSV than others. That includes kids who were born prematurely, have congenital heart disease, have chronic lung disease and have a neuromuscular weakness.
If you have an infant with any of those illnesses, Dr. Prpich says you should talk to your pediatrician about a monthly shot called Synagis.
"It sort of prevents the virus from binding and causing infection," he said.
You can decrease your child's chances of contracting RSV with some tried and true practices that many families have done throughout the pandemic.
"Good handwashing, sanitizing those solid surfaces and possibly sort of making some choices around, not having large play dates," Dr. Prpich said.
RSV also affects elderly adults, which the CDC also counts in its data. The department of health is tracking data specifically for children under the age of five. You can find the FLDOH's weekly report by clicking here.