Raising awareness for RSV

What you need to know with cases on the rise

Rose Green-Flores
RSV spreads through direct exposure to infected respiratory droplets and can have symptoms similar to COVID-19 or the common cold.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is typically a winter respiratory virus, but many areas of the United States saw cases rise over the summer. Health experts are hoping to raise awareness about this virus so parents, health care personnel and staff at child care and long-term care facilities can respond appropriately. RSV presents with symptoms similar to a cold, and most who get an infection will experience a mild illness that lasts for one to two weeks.

“RSV is common, and almost all children will have an RSV infection by age 2,” said Virginia Nagy, M.D., a family medicine physician at Lake Regional Clinic – Eldon. “But RSV can be severe for infants, older adults, people with lung or heart disease, or people who are immunocompromised, so it is important to know when to seek immediate medical attention.”

RSV is common, and almost all children will have an RSV infection by age 2.

Symptoms and Care

RSV spreads through direct exposure to infected respiratory droplets. This can occur when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you. It also can spread if you touch an infected surface and then touch your face before washing your hands. People with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days. Symptoms typically appear within four to six days of infection and usually include:

• Runny nose

• Decrease in appetite

• Coughing

• Sneezing

• Fever

• Wheezing

“For young infants, symptoms may include breathing difficulties, fatigue and poor feeding,” Dr. Nagy said. “Always seek immediate medical attention if you or your child are experiencing difficulty breathing, severe cough, or bluish color to tongue, lips or skin from a lack of oxygen. RSV can sometimes lead to serious conditions, such as pneumonia.”

Medical providers can diagnose RSV through a physical exam or by a nasal swab test. Because symptoms overlap with COVID-19, providers might also want to test for COVID-19.

RSV does not have a specific treatment; however, there are steps you can take to relieve symptoms. Drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration. Over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers can help manage fever and pain. Saline nasal drops also can help ease congestion. Avoid cigarette smoke as it can worsen symptoms.

“Remember to never give aspirin to children,” Dr. Nagy said. “And talk to your child’s provider before giving any nonprescription cold medicines.”

Because RSV is a viral infection and not bacterial, it should not be treated with an antibiotic.

For severe symptoms, hospitalization may be necessary, and treatment could include intravenous fluids or breathing support.

There is a vaccine which can be given to infants and young children at high risk for severe RSV to help prevent RSV infection.

Steps to Prevent RSV

You can protect yourself and your loved ones from RSV by following good hygiene practices:

• Wash hands frequently

• Avoid touching your face

• Cover coughs and sneezes

• Clean and disinfect surfaces

• Wash toys regularly

• Stay home when you are sick

Researchers are working on developing several vaccines, antibody treatments and antiviral therapies to help protect vulnerable populations from severe RSV infection.

“There is a vaccine, called palivizumab, which can be given to infants and young children at high risk for severe RSV to help prevent RSV infection,” Dr. Nagy said. “This vaccine is given as monthly injections during RSV season. If your infant was premature or your young child has a heart or a lung condition, then talk to your child’s provider about whether this preventive measure is recommended.”