by Gabriela McDonald
You may have heard that there is another outbreak slamming hospitals this winter. But this time it’s not just COVID.
What is RSV?
“Respiratory Syncytial Virus” or RSV is a virus spread by respiratory droplets that causes a mild upper respiratory infection, which is basically a cold. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, fever, wheezing, and decreased appetite. RSV’s seasons are winter and spring and most people catch it many times in their lives.
Normally, almost all children get RSV before the age of 2. Most do well at home with supportive care such as using Tylenol for fever and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
If it’s just a cold, then what’s the big deal?
Young children have smaller airways than adults so the virus can move deeper to infect the lower respiratory tract, which could lead to severe disease. About 1 – 2% of babies who are less than 6 months old and have an RSV infection may need to go to the hospital. Most hospitalized children improve within a few days, but this RSV season is particularly bad.
Why is this season bad?
Wearing masks and physically distancing was effective in slowing the spread of COVID as well as other viruses including the flu and RSV. As a result, for two years, most kids did not get RSV. Now with kids back in school and fewer masking requirements, many are getting RSV for the very first time. The first time a child is infected with RSV is usually the worst since their immune system has not seen this type of virus before. The combination of RSV, a bad flu season, and another COVID outbreak means that hospitals will be super busy.
What do you need to know?
It’s important to know who is at a high risk of developing a severe RSV infection, how to prevent its spread, and when to seek medical help.
The people at higher risk of severe disease include:
• Premature infants
• Infants 6 months old or younger
• Children < 2 years old with a chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease
• Children with weakened immune systems or neuromuscular disorders that affect their swallowing
• Older adults (> 65 years old) especially those with a chronic lung or heart condition
How to prevent the spread of RSV:
• Stay home if you’re sick
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
• Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face
• Cover your coughs/sneezes
• Get your COVID and flu vaccines! If there are less hospitalizations for COVID and the flu, then there will be more resources for people hospitalized with RSV
When to seek medical attention:
• Seek medical attention if your child is wheezing, struggling to breathe, or if your baby is showing signs of dehydration (such as fewer wet diapers).
• Call 911 if you notice a blue color around your child’s lips, because that means they are not getting enough oxygen.
For more information, please visit the CDC’s website:
Gabriela McDonald was born in Florida to an Argentine mother and an American father. She graduated in 2021 from Duke University with a B.S. in Biology as well as in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She is currently a medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is part of the Latino Health Pathway and is an executive board member for the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) chapter at the University of Rochester.