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Respiratory Virus Infecting Kids Across the South

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a health advisory on June 10 about the rise of RSV in southern parts of the U.S. The disease is a respiratory illness that causes similar symptoms to COVID-19.

A young boy receiving a vaccination in his arm.
Sanofi Pasteur/Flickr CC
(TNS) - As COVID-19 infections continue to fall across the country, another disease, called RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is on the rise and could pose a threat to everyone from infants to the elderly, experts warn.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a health advisory on June 10 about the rise of RSV in southern parts of the U.S. The disease is a respiratory illness that causes similar symptoms to COVID-19.

“Due to this increased activity, CDC encourages broader testing for RSV among patients presenting with acute respiratory illness who test negative for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the advisory reads.

What is RSV?

The CDC describes the respiratory syncytial virus as “a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.” For most people, recovery from RSV takes a week or two, but it can cause severe illness, especially in infants and older people.

RSV, being a respiratory illness, is spread much the same way as COVID-19. One can contract it when respiratory droplets from an infected person, often through a cough or sneeze, make contact with one’s eyes, nose, or mouth, or when one touches their face after having touched a contaminated surface, the CDC explains.

The CDC notes that the South is currently experiencing a sudden rise in RSV cases, which had been lower than normal since April 2020. A rise in lab-confirmed cases first began in March 2021, and they’ve since soared in states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Oklahoma.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

A few of the typical symptoms caused by RSV are similar, but not identical, to those caused by COVID-19, the CDC explained. The most common, which are listed below, typically emerge in stages—not all at the same time:

Most RSV infections clear up after a week or two. Patients experiencing dehydration or who have trouble breathing should be hospitalized; in severe cases, a person might have to be put on oxygen or intubated, according to the CDC.

The CDC said that RSV is “the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children” younger than 1 year of age in the U.S. and that almost all children will have had an RSV infection by age 2.

Annually, 58,000 children younger than five and 177,000 adults 65 or older are hospitalized with RSV; of those, 100-500 children and 14,000 adults die of the disease, the CDC noted.

How is RSV treated?

According to the CDC, other than symptom management, “there is no specific treatment for RSV infection,” though researchers continue to work on developing vaccines and antivirals.

The CDC suggests the following steps to relieve symptoms:

How can RSV be prevented?

The CDC states the following steps should be taken to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should:

The CDC says that ideally, “people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems.”

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