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Health and Fitness News

RSV on the Rise

A common respiratory illness that puts babies and the elderly in harm’s way.

Ever since COVID-19 showed up, things have been bonkers. We’ve worn masks in public. Kept our distance from loved ones. And many have lived in fear.

But there was at least one positive thing that happened during the pandemic. Thanks to masks and social distancing, there was a decrease in respiratory illness and flu. How much reduction was there? For the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), cases dropped by an amazing 98 percent around the world. However, as social distancing rules have relaxed, RSV cases picked up. While the virus is typically worse during the fall and winter months, the past summer saw a serious uptick in cases.

Infants and the elderly are especially vulnerable to a serious RSV infection, with thousands hospitalized each year. Here’s what parents and caregivers should know about this virus that’s back in full force.

Cold-Like Symptoms

For most people, RSV causes mild cold symptoms that last a week or two. But for babies and older adults, the virus may lead to pneumonia (a lung infection) or bronchiolitis (inflammation of lung airways).

After being exposed, RSV leads to annoyances such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, fever, a lack of appetite, and wheezing. Young babies may be irritabile, have breathing trouble, and may not act themselves. Adults or babies who have trouble breathing or are dehydrated may need to be hospitalized for care.

The Most Vulnerable

RSV is especially dangerous for vulnerable children. This includes the following:

  • Premature babies
  • Infants younger than six months
  • Toddlers with lung disease or heart disease
  • Children with a weak immune system
  • Children with a neuromuscular disorder that prevents them from coughing or swallowing.

Adults older than 65 are also at increased risk. Particularly those with a weakened immune system, lung disease, or heart disease.

Quite Contagious

RSV is more easily transmitted than many respiratory viruses. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and a droplet makes its way to another person’s mouth, nose, or eyes. The virus can also live on surfaces. If you touch an infected surface and then touch your face, you may get sick. Someone with RSV is contagious for up to eight days, though babies may spread it for four weeks.

The recent summer months saw more RSV cases than usual. Again, the pandemic may be the reason. After months of being extra careful to avoid illness, babies’ immune systems didn’t get much action. Now that they’re being exposed to new pathogens, they may have a harder time fighting them off.

No Treatment Available

Like most viruses, there is no treatment for RSV. You just have to let it run its course. Fortunately, most infections will heal on their own in a week or two. In the meantime, there are ways to relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter pain relievers help manage fever or pain. Drinking plenty of fluids helps prevent dehydration. For more relief, talk with your pediatrician or doctor.

Preventing Infection

As with all viruses, the best treatment is prevention. Wash your hands frequently. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. Disinfect highly-touched surfaces. And avoid close contact with others, especially babies, the elderly, or other high-risk people.

There is currently no vaccine available to prevent RSV, but a medication called palivizumab can be given to infants or children who are considered high risk for RSV. The medication doesn’t completely prevent or treat infection, but it can protect against a serious infection.