GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Children’s hospitals across the country, including West Michigan, are dealing with an unexpected surge of patients diagnosed with RSV.

RSV, the shorthand for respiratory syncytial virus infection, usually hits children ages 5 and under, with the peak in annual cases coming in late December. But for the second year in a row, the influx has come earlier than expected, putting children’s hospitals in a bind.

“The fact that the surge is a little bit earlier than normal just is a challenge because we usually plan and prepare for this and we staff up within our hospitals and within our emergency departments to be able to accommodate higher volumes of patients,” Dr. Andrea Hadley said. “So we’re having some difficulties with our staffing shortages.”

She is the chief of pediatric hospital medicine at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, where she has seen firsthand the problems an early virus can bring. A shortage of beds is one of the major issues medical providers face.

“Patients in outside hospitals have had to call around to different hospitals to try and find either regular hospital beds or ICU beds,” she said.

On average, RSV will lead to the hospitalization of 58,000 children under the age of 5 every year, with 100 to 300 dying from the virus, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the symptoms of RSV are similar to the common cold or flu, including congestion, coughing and fever.

Hadley said parents should monitor their children in case symptoms progress and they are in need of hospitalization. Avoiding contact with others who may be sick, washing your hands and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve have all been recommended to help stop the spread of RSV.

For more information on RSV, its symptoms or health and safety guidelines, click here.