Respiratory Syncytial Virus Ain’t Nothing to Sneeze At
We’ve all heard enough about COVID-19, but it’s worth remembering that other viruses still try to get cozy in our respiratory system. One virus that is very prevalent in the United States is Respiratory Syncytial (“sin-sish-ul”) Virus, or RSV for short. It’s so widespread that the CDC states that nearly all children will get RSV before their second birthday. The oldest (above 65) and youngest (under 5) populations are most at risk of complications. Those most in danger are premature children, those with compromised immune systems, and those with underlying heart or lung diseases. All told, RSV accounts for around 177,000 hospitalizations of seniors (65+) and 58,000 children (under 5) each year.
RSV is easily transmissible. It passes from person to person through coughs, sneezes, or indirect means, like touching a doorknob and then your face. Most patients experience mild, cold-like symptoms. These include runny nose, fever, cough, sneezing, etc. Symptoms usually come in stages over a couple of weeks. Very young children and those at higher risk may experience more severe symptoms. In children under six, RSV might present as irritation, decreased activity, and breathing difficulty, which can be severe – and very scary! In adults over 65, severe symptoms can include a worsening of asthma or COPD, pneumonia, and the development of Congestive Heart Failure – a fluid buildup in the heart that prevents it from pumping effectively.
Much like the flu, RSV is seasonal. In most of the United States, the season is from September to February. The Florida Department of Health notes that Florida has a longer season than the rest of the nation. Here, the season for RSV is from August through April. The CDC has found that all across the south the year-round RSV cases increased. 2021 saw an unexpected surge of RSV over the summer. This is in part because the same tactics used to stem COVID-19 also protect against RSV. These protective measures include wearing masks, washing hands and surfaces, and social distancing. As these restrictions were lessened, cases of RSV rose to unprecedented summer levels.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for RSV. As it’s a virus, antibiotics are ineffective. Most patients will recover naturally. For others, best practices are treating symptoms by managing fever, pain, fluid intake, and any complications. For children and infants at severe risk, monthly Palivizumab injections may be available. Unfortunately, there are no publicly available vaccines for adults at increased risk. There are vaccines currently being researched that are going through clinical trials. With your help, we can find an effective RSV vaccine and help protect those at risk.
Written by: Benton Lowey-Ball, B.S. Behavioral Neuroscience
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). Atlanta, USA.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Increased interseasonal Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) activity in parts of the southern United States. Atlanta, USA.
Florida Department of Health. (2022). Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in Florida. Tallahassee, USA