The flu is spreading in the Barren River region. And so is a lesser-known but still life-threatening virus.

Respiratory syncytial virus has been the other big threat this winter. The common virus produces mild, cold-like symptoms that most people can overcome within two weeks. But RSV can be serious for infants and older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in U.S. children younger than 1 year old, according to the CDC.

“It can cause, especially in younger children, fever for three to five days and a cough or cold for 10 days ... and a lot of snottiness,” said Dr. Kelly Kries, a pediatrician in Bowling Green.

“It’s a really bad respiratory illness,” Kries said. “It doesn’t respond to antibiotics, and there isn’t an antiviral, so you just have to give it time.”

The virus is particularly threatening to infants and young children, as they are less capable of handling secretions.

In December, Kries personally witnessed at least a couple of children being hospitalized per week in Bowling Green.

The Medical Center at Bowling Green confirmed RSV in 66 individuals in November, 160 in December and 16 this month through Jan. 6.

Flu activity has also been severe this season.

Through Dec. 28, Warren County reported 184 lab-confirmed cases. Barren County had 265 cases, third behind Bullitt County’s 266 cases and Jefferson County’s 2,468 cases, according to the state Department for Public Health’s latest report.

This flu season, which runs from October until May, there have been 766 confirmed influenza cases reported in the Barren River region – up from 134 cases last year at this time, according to Layne Blackwell, an epidemiologist at the Barren River Area Health Department.

There have been eight flu-related deaths, up from five last year, in the region.

Western Kentucky University students are largely still off-campus for holiday break, so there hasn’t been reported flu activity recently, according to WKU spokesman Bob Skipper.

On Monday, 211 students missed the first day of school after the holidays in the Bowling Green Independent School District – reflecting about 2 percent of the student population.

“It’s pretty average for this time of year,” said Carolyn Price, attendance associate for the district. “We’re not seeing a lot of flu yet.”

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, hand-washing is the best method of preventing the flu.

“I see (sick) people all day and don’t get sick. It’s because I’m washing my hands 60 times a day,” Kries said.

It’s particularly important before eating or touching the face, according to Kries.

If you do catch the flu, and you fall into a high-risk category, you should visit a doctor, Kries said.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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