HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Health announced the first flu-related pediatric death in Virginia this flu season, just as hospitals and emergency rooms are inundated with young patients. 

Michael Miller, a pediatric doctor at Saint Mary’s Hospital, says hospitals are still facing high-capacity rates as the colder winter months cause a spike in respiratory illnesses. 

There is a lot of overlap when it comes to the symptoms of RSV, the cold and COVID, since they are all respiratory viruses. Crossover symptoms like a high temperature, cough and congestion are common, but there are others as well. 

Miller says while physical symptoms are typically a sign that a child has fallen ill, parents and caretakers should also pay attention to their mental state. 

“It is difficult for a parent to be able to tell which virus it is by looking at the child,” Miller said. “The mental status is always extremely important. If a child is lethargic, you want them to be seen.”

As more parents become concerned about the fast-spreading rate of RSV, there are things doctors say to avoid.

“We shouldn’t overreact and rush them to the hospital and overrun the emergency services,” Miller said. “And on the flip side of that, we shouldn’t be afraid to come to the emergency room if someone has the symptoms. We shouldn’t worry about the ER’s being full or getting to a pediatrician’s office.”

With the capacity of children’s beds being so high at area hospitals, Miller says while the hospital is always a safe bet, it shouldn’t always be the first route parents take. 

“A lot of supportive care is done at home,” Miller said. “The next thing is to reach out to a pediatrician.”

His message to parents with sick kids is that while sickness can be frightening, illnesses like the flu can be usually be treated effectively.  

“While it’s scary to have our kids being sick, the majority of children are going to get over these viruses with supportive care,” Miller said.

Currently there is no vaccine for RSV, but flu shots are available through local health departments and other medical offices.