BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale Burstein, is a pediatrician, and she says there’s recently been “an unusual number” of childhood deaths pertaining to respiratory illness.

From the end of August to the end of September, Dr. Burstein says six children in the county, age 3 or younger, are suspected to have died as the result of a respiratory issue or unsafe sleep practice. Three of these children were one year old or younger.

“These cases are tragic and heartbreaking, and as communities and families, we can prevent these deaths from happening,” Dr. Burstein said. “Parents, grandparents, babysitters and occasional caregivers like older siblings or neighbors must have this information and be ready to act.”

Dr. Burstein was joined by two other pediatricians, Dr. Geovanny Perez and Dr. Fred Archer, during a Tuesday morning conference announcing the deaths.

Children tend to get sick more often in the winter months, but something as simple as a cold or a cough can turn bad quickly.

Dr. Perez said he’s been seeing an uptick in children with respiratory infections at Oishei since school started back up for many kids last month.

“Infants and young children are very vulnerable to respiratory pathogens like RSV, influenza, COVID-19, and they cannot tell you that they are having trouble breathing,” Dr. Perez said.

The doctors shared some of the signs parents and caregivers can look for in a child suffering respiratory distress or using extra effort to breathe:

  • nasal flaring
  • ribs pulling in with each breathe
  • head bobbing up and down, neck muscles moving when breathing
  • wheezing
  • breathing and heart rate that’s much faster than normal
  • struggling for a breath
  • shortness of breath
  • tight breathing where children can hardly speak or cry
  • changes in alertness

“Parents and anyone caring for a child should not hesitate to call their pediatrician or get their child to a hospital if they notice any signs of respiratory distress,” Dr. Archer said.

A sign where parents should immediately call 911 is if their child appears to have blue lips or unusual limpness. This means the child isn’t getting enough oxygen.

October is Safe Sleep Month, and Dr. Archer reminded parents of a simple way to remember the best way for their babies to sleep — ABC (alone, on their back in a crib). Parents should also keep the room temperature reasonable. Dr. Archer says 68-70 degrees is ideal.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.