RSV: A fall surge

Common among children, the virus has been affecting older adults too this season.

When compared to previous years, the current surge in RSV cases has been significantly more severe, grabbing headlines as it causes infant children to become hospitalized, filling the state’s pediatric beds.

Respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, is not a virus that’s new, or “novel” — this is a virus that routinely spreads during the fall and winter months, resulting in cold/flu-like symptoms and, maybe, a trip to the doctor.

This year, however, many factors have led to an increased spread and surge of RSV, prompting public health experts and medical professionals to urge everyone to note the rise in cases and take precautions to ensure your health and the health of loved ones, both younger and older.

How it’s spread

A respiratory virus, RSV is spread through respiratory droplets — microscopic particles transmitted by a cough, sneeze or mucus.

These particles can live in the air as well as on skin and surfaces, such as when an infected person sneezes on a kitchen countertop or when someone wipes their bare hand on their nose.

The virus will attach itself to an individual’s upper respiratory tract and cause symptoms of sneezing, wheezy breathing, a persistent cough, fever and runny nose.

Anyone can become infected with RSV, but it has traditionally been the most vulnerable populations — infant children and older adults — who become significantly symptomatic.

Staying safe

In past seasons, symptoms were often mild, rarely escalating to the point when patients would require hospitalization.

This season, however, several factors have led to a noticeable increase in RSV severity, prompting the health care community to strongly encourage everyone to take steps to protect against infection.

Unlike the flu and COVID-19, there is no vaccine against RSV, unfortunately, so doctors recommend routinely practicing traditional mitigation strategies, specifically thorough handwashing, avoiding touching your face, avoiding those who are sick and, perhaps most importantly, staying home and away from others if you’re sick.

Seeking care

Even in the face of the surge, most cases have remained relatively mild and not causing severe symptoms. But the prevalence of the virus this season has increased the risk of the vulnerable population — who are more likely to develop severe symptoms — to become infected with RSV.

With more infant children and older adults developing symptoms, the chances for stretching the resources of the health care industry increases as well, especially when considering the flu season has yet to peak and there are still COVID-19 patients.

Patients should seek care in the emergency department if their symptoms are severe to the point that they are having trouble breathing or have become dehydrated.

Other patients feeling ill, though not to the point they may need emergency care, can make an appointment with their primary care physician to address their symptoms.