Winter is synonymous with the holidays, rain or snow and, of course, the common cold. Though colds are not exclusive to winter, they tend to be more common in the colder months of the year, when people typically spend more time indoors, making it easier for cold viruses to spread from one person to another.
As cold season hits full swing, it’s important to recognize that the common cold is not always behind those uncomfortable coughs and sniffles. Respiratory syncytial virus, often referred to as RSV, is a serious respiratory virus that produces symptoms similar to those associated with the common cold. Some basic knowledge of RSV can ensure people seek the treatment they need to overcome it.
What is RSV?
The Mayo Clinic reports that RSV is a virus that infects the lungs and respiratory tract. Though RSV may not be as familiar as the common cold, perhaps it’s more familiar than many people realize, as the Mayo Clinic indicates most children have been infected with the virus by the time they’re two years old. The American Lung Association reports that RSV is so common among children because they so frequently come into physical contact with other kids.
When is RSV most likely to occur?
According to the ALA, the peak season for RSV is fall through spring. However, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment notes that RSV infections rose sharply in summer 2021. Though that spike was likely due to a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, it underscores that RSV can strike in summer, even if it’s less likely to spread during times of year when people tend to spend more time outdoors.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that people infected with RSV typically exhibit symptoms within four to six days of infection. Such symptoms, which usually appear in stages and not all at once, may include: Runny nose; decrease in appetite; coughing; sneezing; fever; wheezing.
Young infants with RSV may be irritable, less active and experience breathing difficulties. The ALA notes that RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in all infants, so symptoms should be taken seriously and brought to the attention of a child’s pediatrician immediately. The ALA also notes that symptoms like difficulty breathing, not drinking enough, decreased activity, nasal flaring, and bluish lips and fingernails require urgent care.
How is RSV managed?
The CDC notes that antiviral medication is not typically part of a treatment for RSV, as most infections go away within a week or two without intervention. Symptoms such as fever and pain can be managed with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (the CDC notes that aspirin should never be given to children). Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and speaking with a physician prior to taking something or giving a child something to treat RSV is recommended.
Is there an RSV vaccination?
The CDC recommends immunization for those most at risk of serious illness from RSV. High-risk groups include infants, toddlers and adults age 60 and older. Parents and older adults are urged to speak to their child’s doctors and their own physicians about RSV vaccination.