RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– Local health officials are warning about a spike in respiratory illnesses in kids, but it’s not COVID-19.

One of those respiratory illnesses, Croup, is affecting kids in a different way.

Dr. Frank Petruzella, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at VCU Health, said Croup is a viral illness caused by many different viruses like human parainfluenza. The infection can lead to flu-like symptoms, a barking cough and swelling under the vocal cords.

“Where Croup can become dangerous is if that swelling progresses,” Petruzella said.

He said it usually appears in the winter, but this summer it’s becoming more prevalent among young children.

“Why it’s happening now I think has a lot to do with the past 18 months,” he said. “With the social distancing, with the mask-wearing, with the limitation of sporting events, school, with most parents working from home and therefore decreasing the number of children that are in daycare. We just have a group of children that really haven’t been exposed to these viruses before.”

In the winter, Dr. Petruzella sees up to 200 patients in one week with the illness. This summer he said nearly 50 patients at his office have tested positive for viruses that can cause croup, so far.

“I think what we’re seeing right now is just with sort of life returning to normal we’re kind of catching up for the winter-viral season that we missed this past year,” Petruzella said.

Rebecca Lewis, a senior epidemiologist at the Henrico County Health Department, said respiratory illnesses are rising above normal levels across central Virginia.

A few local daycares have contacted the health department with concerns of several students being absent while sick.

Lewis said the families received negative COVID-19 tests and were stumped about what the sickness was.

“People are very quick to test for COVID-19 and then if that result is negative there’s no further testing being done,” she said. “The child or even the adult is still sick or having symptoms, but we don’t actually know what it is.”

Lewis encourages daycares seeing an increase in sick students to continue following COVID-19 safety protocols to slow the spread of other respiratory illnesses.

“With our COVID fatigue, if you will, or the loosening of restrictions, people aren’t thinking as much about washing their hands or disinfecting things,” she said.