Chances are, you or a family member has had respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) without realizing it. The symptoms of RSV are typically mild and resemble those of the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19, including coughing, sneezing, fever, headache, and a runny nose.
However, sometimes, RSV’s punch is much more severe. When RSV affects the lungs, it can cause life-threatening complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis. It can also worsen preexisting conditions like asthma or COPD.
In recent years, RSV has led to severe illnesses in infants, young children, and older adults. Some 60,000-160,000 adults 60 and over are hospitalized yearly due to RSV, along with 58,000-80,000 children under age 5.
As we prepare for the 2023-2024 RSV season, which coincides with cold, flu, and COVID-19 seasons, the team at Bethel Family Medicine in Brockton, Massachusetts, wants to provide essential information to keep you and your loved ones healthy.
The basics of RSV
RSV shares common symptoms with other respiratory infections but also has distinct characteristics:
- can quickly spread within households, so early precautions are crucial
- persistent, dry cough is a hallmark symptom
- tends to persist longer than the common cold
Lab testing is typically required for confirmation; even individuals with mild RSV symptoms can transmit the virus to others.
There’s no specific treatment or medication for RSV. Like many viruses, the recommended approach for mild symptoms is to stay well-hydrated and get plenty of rest.
For those with conditions like COPD or asthma, adhering to prescribed medications is crucial to alleviate breathing difficulties. Consult your health care provider to discuss possible adjustments to your medication.
The RSV vaccine
The RSV vaccine enhances your immune response against RSV, reducing the severity of symptoms and potential complications. Like the CDC, we advise individuals at high risk to get the RSV vaccine tailored to their age group:
Adults 60 and older
We especially recommend the vaccine for those with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions such as chronic lung or heart disease. Healthy adults in this age group should consult their Bethel Family Medicine provider.
For women at 32-36 weeks of pregnancy, the vaccine protects their newborns.
Children 8-19 months
We recommend the vaccine for babies born prematurely or who have specific immunocompromising conditions like lung disease.
Prevent the spread
RSV primarily spreads through respiratory droplets, particularly when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your face is another method of transmission.
Practice proper hand hygiene and avoid close contact with symptomatic individuals. During peak RSV season, which spans fall and winter, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance in crowded indoor settings are strongly advised.
For more information about RSV and all of your family’s healthcare needs, book an appointment with the professionals at Bethel Family Medicine.