Hospitals across the country have seen an earlier-than-usual uptick in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in recent weeks, and Maury Regional Health (MRH) wants to help keep the community aware of its dangers and how to stay safe.
RSV is a highly contagious respiratory virus that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults, but its effects on infants and elderly adults can be life-threatening due to difficulty breathing and the possibility of developing lung infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
Cases generally hit their highest point in the U.S. annually in the late fall or start of winter. However, there has already been a surge across the country this year, mirroring a trend over the last couple of years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the patterns of circulation for RSV and other common respiratory viruses have been disrupted since 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with higher case numbers earlier in the year.
MRH has diagnosed more than 70 positive cases since late July across the health system and performed more than 822 tests for RSV, a higher than usual volume of these illnesses for early fall.
The CDC says children under the age of 5 and adults 65 and older are the groups most affected by severe cases of RSV, and almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday. The virus leads to more than 58,000 hospitalizations of children younger than 5 each year, as well as 177,000 hospitalizations of adults 65 and older. There are approximately 14,000 deaths annually due to RSV among adults 65 and older, and another 100-300 among children under 5.
Common symptoms of RSV typically start within four to six days after getting infected and include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. Young infants may only show signs of irritability, decreased activity and difficulty breathing.
RSV infections usually subside on their own in a week or two and usually don’t require hospitalization, according to the CDC. Those who require hospitalization generally are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated, and in severe cases additional oxygen or intubation with mechanical ventilation is required.
It’s recommended to seek medical care when someone with RSV symptoms is having trouble breathing, not drinking enough fluids or is experiencing worsening symptoms.
“To relieve symptoms of RSV, take over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers for fever and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration,” said Andrew Nielsen, MD, a specialist in internal medicine and pediatrics at Maury Regional Medical Group Primary Care and Pediatrics. “Make sure to talk to your health care provider before giving children nonprescription cold medicines.”
There is no vaccine for RSV, but there are easy steps that can help with prevention.
Always cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, never your hands; wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid close contact, especially with individuals who have cold-like symptoms; and clean frequently touched surfaces regularly.
“Prevention is key with RSV,” Nielsen said. “The virus spreads rapidly, so limit your contact with others as much as possible if you or someone in your family is sick. That includes staying home from work, school or daycare, if possible.”