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As viral infections increase in metro, unusual clinic helps babies breathe easier

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Viruses are spreading as people share more than holiday cheer. In babies and toddlers, some viruses result in infection that makes it much harder to breathe and eat. An unusual clinic is helping those little ones get better.

Three-month-old Jared Swearingen has had better days.

"He was just raspy and had a cough, little difficulty breathing, couldn't eat as much," said his father, Jacob Swearingen.

Jared has RSV, the respiratory syncytial virus. That's resulted in bronchiolitis, infection that causes the small breathing tubes of the lungs to swell.

"Because they have difficulty breathing, they can have difficulty feeding because it's too much work to breathe and feed simultaneously," said Dr. Irene Walsh of Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas.

Jared's doctor referred the family to the respiratory outpatient clinic at that hospital. The clinic operates 24/7 from November through April. A pediatric respiratory therapist assesses each baby and provides treatment.

Jared needs deep suctioning to get the mucous out and improve breathing. Others may need only bulb suctioning. The cost of the care is similar to a doctor's visit.

"We give them a little bit of comfort at home that they don't have to come to the emergency room or urgent care. They can just come in, pop in real quick and get a little peace of mind for their child to be at home, said Chris Kaberline, a respiratory therapist.

Although the therapists also sometimes see a baby who needs to be hospitalized.

Parents learn how to care for baby at home.

"Make sure you're always using a few drops of saline on each side," said the therapist to Jared's parents.

"It lets us know he's in the best hands possible, not only his mother and father, but here at Children's Mercy," said Swearingen.

The clinic is only open to babies who've already been diagnosed with bronchiolitis and have a referral.

It saw 25 to 30 babies each day last week, so RSV and other viruses appear to be picking up. Warning signs that your baby needs to see a doctor include difficulty breathing with the ribs going in and out, breathing faster than once per second, trouble eating and signs of dehydration.