RSV virus

Winter viruses & kids: Difficulty breathing? Seek help

Charlie Megginson Headlines, Health

RSV virus

RSV virus, shown here, is a hot topic for health officials and parents of young children.

Delaware’s public health agency already has identified 4,274 lab-confirmed cases of influenza — significantly more than the entire 2021-2022 flu season.

It’s confirmed 718 cases of RSV, and the state’s seven-day average for new COVID cases is 164, up from 106 a month ago. 

Welcome to the tripledemic health officials have been warning about.

All three viruses have similar systems: congestion, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and fever — and all three can cause difficulty breathing, something particularly concerning for children with their smaller airways.

All this has parents wondering: When does my child need to get medical attention?

The answer: When in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

H. Fagan MD 1

Heather Bittner Fagan, M.D.

The moment a child shows signs of difficulty breathing, it’s time to go to the emergency room, said Dr. Heather Bittner Fagan, a family medicine physician at ChristianaCare Primary Care at Darley Green in Claymont.

“For the layperson, I would imagine it would be very difficult to discern the difference between these three viruses,” Fagan said. 

But for the parent, “it’s not so crucial for them to know which of three illnesses it is,” she said. “If their child has a respiratory illness, the key to understand is how that child is breathing.”

For mild symptoms like low fevers, congestion, or runny noses, parents should check temperatures, familiarize themselves with the appropriate dosages of fever reducers and ensure their child remains hydrated.

A parent knows when it’s time to take their child to see a pediatrician, but if they’re not able to get an appointment — something that can be difficult for first-time patients — parents should go to an urgent care center or a hospital emergency room. 

Fagan said most pediatricians and family doctors will prioritize sick children.

Even so, if parents find themselves in a position where they can’t get in to see their doctor, or they’re new to the area and don’t yet have a doctor, the next best options are walk-in clinics and the emergency room.

“And as much as we all want to be stewards of the resources of care, if you have a child in front of you that is sick and you’re not sure how sick they are and you’re worried, then that’s absolutely a reason to bring them in and let someone else decide,” Fagan said.

What to do and where to go is a hot topic right now on Facebook parenting groups.

When a parent with a sick child asks other parents for help, one of the common complaints is that they can’t get an appointment with their pediatrician or family doctor.

The parents will often debate the qualities of various urgent care offices, but many are suggesting people try ChristianaCare’s new 24/7 pediatric care center.

Located on the first floor of ChristianaCare’s Center for Women’s & Children’s Health at 4755 Ogletown Stanton Road in Newark, the pediatric center provides hospital-based, non-trauma emergency and inpatient care.

Because it’s new, parents say, it’s often less crowded and quicker than other urgent care options.

How to protect against the tripledemic


As Delawareans prepare to gather with family and friends for the holiday season, medical professionals continue to recommend vaccines, avoiding large crowds, staying home if you’re feeling unwell, and wearing masks — especially around vulnerable populations. 

And most importantly, if you think you or a family member might have a respiratory illness, don’t go to grandma’s house.

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