RSV Or Just The Sniffles?

By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern

SOUTH JERSEY – Parents must be aware of the spread, risk, and symptoms of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) this season. With the viral season ahead, it is hard to know which illness is which; here is everything you need to know about RSV and how to protect your kid(s) this school year. 

CDC data has shown an increase in RSV detections and RSV-associated emergency department visits and hospitalizations throughout the United States, with many regions nearing seasonal peak levels of the virus. Each year in the United States, an estimated 58,000-80,000 children younger than five are hospitalized due to RSV infection (CDC). Those hospitalized typically require oxygen, IV fluids, and mechanical ventilation and improve with this care and are discharged within a few days. 

RSV is a common respiratory virus that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms that most people recover from in a week or two. People of all ages can contract RSV. However, the virus is more common and extreme in young children and older adults. 

These cold-like symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, a cough, headache, and a low fever. Many children’s appetites also may be lower, and RSV can lead to fewer wet diapers for nursing babies. 

Children are often exposed to and infected by RSV at school and other activities outside the home. Among younger children in the United States, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs), croup, ear infections, and pneumonia (infection in the lungs). 

RSV transmission occurs when infected individuals cough or sneeze, individuals get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in their eyes, nose, or mouth, when individuals touch a surface that has the virus on it and then touch their face before washing their hands, or when individuals have direct contact with an infected person. 

Those at the highest risk for severe disease include premature infants, young children with congenital heart and chronic lung disease, young children with weakened immune systems, infants still nursing or bottle feeding, adults with compromised immune systems, and older adults with underlying heart or lung disease. 

The warning signs for your child are difficulty breathing, runny nose, decreased appetite, irritability, decreased activity, apnea, and cough, which may progress into wheezing. 

If an individual becomes infected with RSV, they will be contagious for three to eight days. However, infants and those with weakened immune systems can continue to be contagious and spread the virus even after symptoms have stopped for up to four weeks. 

For your child’s safety, it is important to wash your and your children’s hands often, keep hands off the face, avoid close contact with sick people, cover your cough and sneezes, disinfect infected surfaces, and stay home when you are sick.

There is currently no vaccine for RSV, but scientists are working to create one. However, individuals can receive other vaccinations for viral illnesses to protect themselves, including the flu and COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, some medicines can help prevent some babies at high risk for severe RSV disease. 

Getting your child tested for RSV is not always necessary, for a diagnosis can be made through symptoms and a physical exam. However, if you are concerned about your child’s well-being, or your own, you should reach out to your healthcare provider for further help. 

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