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While many are focused on the holiday season, local health experts are warning that another season is also now underway -- respiratory virus season, which is leading hospitals to take visitor precautions.

Beginning Dec. 21 at 5 p.m., visitors with signs of illness such as cough, runny nose, fever or rash will not be allowed in patient care areas at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center, Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center and Scottsdale Healthcare Thompson Peak Hospital.

The precautions are to help protect patients against respiratory viruses such as influenza (flu) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), according to Scottsdale Healthcare's infection control experts.

Respiratory viruses include flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which is a respiratory tract infection. A typical RSV season in Arizona starts in December and runs through March, according to Karen Underwood, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center.

"While RSV can be seen in adults, we most often see cases affecting babies and young children," said Dr. Underwood.

According to her, RSV can be especially hard on infants less than 6 months old, premature babies, and babies and children with health conditions such as chronic immune, lung, heart or nervous system conditions.

Symptoms of RSV include breathing problems, unusual sluggishness or fussiness, high fever and vomiting. The child also may not want to eat or drink.

"If your child has these symptoms, consider seeing your doctor," said Dr. Underwood.

She noted that children with certain health conditions may need to be hospitalized to protect against dehydration and pneumonia.

Respiratory viruses are spread through coughs, sneezes and picking up the virus from contaminated surfaces such as door knobs or drinking glasses.

Experts recommend preventing the spread of respiratory viruses by covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands and staying away from people who are sick. The best strategy for avoiding influenza, they emphasize, is to get your annual flu vaccine.

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