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RSV Season Is Here: Everything You Need to Know

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  • Written By: Alyssa Hinman
RSV Season Is Here: Everything You Need to Know

Coughing? Runny nose? These symptoms are not unusual to pop up as the months get colder. But you may wonder: Is this a common cold? Or is it something more - like RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms. It causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, leading to those tell-tale symptoms: a runny nose, cough, fever, decrease in appetite, and sneezing. These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. It's prevalent among babies and toddlers.

While RSV symptoms are typically mild and manageable with over-the-counter pain medications, they can develop into serious illnesses, especially for those in high-risk groups. High-risk groups for children include infants, children with lung or heart disease, or children with weak immune systems. Older adults and adults with chronic heart or lung diseases are also considered high-risk.

Given the potential for serious illness, it's easy to understand why RSV can seem scary. That's why brushing up on information about the virus is essential. Knowing what to expect and ways to treat symptoms is your best defense.

How Does RSV Progress?

You may wonder what the RSV day-by-day development looks like. An RSV infection begins like a regular cold for both children and adults. Symptoms might include a runny nose, minor cough, low-grade fever, headache, or sore throat. These symptoms typically peak around days 3-5 of the illness and improve on their own after 1-2 weeks. It's not uncommon for a cough associated with RSV to linger.

Is RSV Contagious to Adults?

Yes. There has been a lot of news recently about high rates of RSV infections in children, but adults can also contract the virus. As mentioned above, some older adults or adults with chronic diseases are at high risk for a more severe illness that can come from RSV, such as pneumonia. Most adults who get RSV will experience minor symptoms that go away after a week.

How Long Is RSV Contagious?

It's easy to spread and pick up because it can linger on hard and soft unclean surfaces. Typically, adults and children are contagious for 3-8 days. Some can be contagious longer, even after symptoms have decreased.

When Should I Go to the Hospital for RSV?

While most people will recover on their own from an RSV infection, it's essential to pay attention to the progression of symptoms. If you don't know when to go to a hospital for RSV, consider whether symptoms have worsened after seven days.

Adults should be on the lookout for the following conditions, which could indicate pneumonia or bronchiolitis. It is essential to attend to these conditions right away.

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing (a high-pitched noise upon exhaling)
  • Rapid breathing pattern, primarily upon standing
  • A debilitating or severe cough
  • Fever

In infants and children, signs of severe illness include:

  • Shallow or rapid breathing patterns
  • Difficulty breathing (look for the chest pulling in)
  • Rising fever
  • Gray or blue color of tongue or lips
  • General malaise, lack of interest in eating or drinking

Again, these symptoms could signal something more serious, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, it is best to get checked out by an urgent care facility or the emergency room for quick attention.

Some Ways to Protect Yourself

Currently, there is no vaccine for RSV. But that doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to keep you and your loved ones a little safer this RSV season.

It's always a joyful moment when a new baby is born, and often, family members want to kiss and snuggle with the baby. RSV is spread through contact with contained respiratory droplets. Kissing, sharing drinks, or transferring things from mouth to mouth can transmit RSV. RSV can cause up to 240,000 deaths in children under the age of 5 worldwide each year, with babies under 6 months most affected.

Practicing good health hygiene, no mouth-to-skin contact with babies that don't live in the same household as you, frequent handwashing, and covering coughs and sneezes are simple but effective ways to protect yourself and your family.

RSV can also survive up to six hours on surfaces. Make sure to frequently clean and sanitize the most used surfaces in your home, such as doorknobs, countertops, toys, mobile devices, keyboards, light switches, or remote controls.

And lastly, don't overlook the importance of preventative health care. Regular visits with your primary care doctor will keep you and your family feeling healthy as RSV season rolls around every year.

Check out Flagler Health for the best ways to keep yourself healthy this RSV season.