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RSV — What you need to know

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has been in the news a lot recently, but it’s nothing new. What is new is global attention for seemingly pedestrian illnesses that can have severe consequences for people with other conditions.

RSV is a highly contagious and very common infection. By the time most children are two years of age, they have likely had and recovered from an RSV infection. The virus is transmitted by droplets in much the same way the cold or flu can be spread.

While most kids recover easily from RSV, there are some at greater risk due to pre-existing conditions such as premature birth, being under six months of age, or having cancer or other chronic diseases. RSV starts out like the common cold so it’s important for parents, especially those with children at higher risk, to be vigilant if symptoms progress.

Children and adults who contract RSV usually start with mild symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion and mild fever. Usually these symptoms can be treated successfully at home. However, if symptoms worsen, it’s important to seek medical care in order to avoid progression of the illness to bronchitis or pneumonia. Be especially on guard when:

  • An infant under six months of age or in a high-risk group shows signs of RSV

  • A baby has trouble breathing or a cough lasting more than four days, and/or is very lethargic and does not eat or drink

  • A child’s fever is high or persistent

  • A child’s mucus is very thick and green, gray or yellow

Because it’s a virus, there is no vaccine or cure for RSV. The best defense is to avoid it entirely, and if caught, to watch the symptoms carefully. When in doubt, parents should consult their child’s health care provider.

It’s important for people of all ages to avoid others that are visibly ill, and to practice good hand hygiene. In fact, these steps are the best way to avoid just about any virus! Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the restroom or before eating. Avoid touching your face. In public, avoid or sanitize touch points such as door knobs or grocery cart handles.


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