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The Virus Called RSV: Why is it Raging Right Now?

The Virus Called RSV: Why is it Raging Right Now?

What’s the deal with RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus — or as most people refer to it, RSV — is not a new virus; it was discovered in 1956. Most children will have been infected with it by the age of two years old. It typically arises on the radar of physicians during the cool weather months of mid- to late-fall and then lingers into spring. This year, however, RSV made an appearance unseasonably early, with an increase in its activity starting in May. 

Why now?

No one really knows why we are seeing this virus out-of-season at these levels.  

Dr. Tamara Harper, a pediatrician at Singing River Pediatrics in Gulfport, reports it is likely due to a variety of factors, including the relaxation of Covid guidelines, increase in daycare attendance, and a decrease in hesitation to seek medical care, which eventually leads to more diagnoses. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, since RSV and COVID-19 are both respiratory viruses, “some symptoms of RSV and COVID-19 can be similar. In children, COVID-19 often results in mild symptoms such as fever, runny nose and cough.” When in doubt, consult your pediatrician.

How can the risk of infection be reduced?

RSV is spread through air droplets, from coughing or sneezing. It also can linger on hard surfaces for hours, so touching a doorknob — and then touching your face — can lead to infection. With this in mind, disinfect surfaces often, wash hands, and cover coughs and sneezes! The Centers for Disease control also advises avoiding close contact with ill persons; this will be helpful in reducing risk of infection from RSV or any other virus.

Of note, Mayo Clinic suggests certain high-risk children should receive a SYNAGIS injection monthly throughout RSV season. SYNAGIS delivers antibodies against RSV, as a method to reduce risk of serious infection in premature children and among those with serious heart and lung diseases. This does not prevent infection, and is not used to treat active infection.

When should medical care be sought?

There is no way to know for sure if RSV is the cause of the cold symptoms without testing. Most children will appear to have little more than the common cold, so supportive care is all they will need. The very young might eat less or seem fussier. There are no specific medicines to treat RSV, so care is directed towards managing the symptoms associated with RSV. Talk to your pediatrician about any concerning symptoms. In particular, seek medical attention immediately if wheezing is heard, or your child is noted to be breathing faster or shallower.  

Fortunately, most children do very well with a RSV infection, but it serves as a reminder to continue to be vigilant in our efforts to keep ourselves and our family healthy.

Alicia Stevens, a resident of Pearl River County, is a freelance writer, wife and mother of two who enjoys traveling with her family and friends.

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