Neural Science

RSV cases and hospitalizations are already rising. Know these symptoms

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus are on the rise in some parts of the U.S., according to a new alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a health advisory to medical professionals, the CDC warned that RSV cases are increasing in the Southeastern part of the country, particularly in Florida. The CDC has also seen a rise in RSV-related hospitalizations in Georgia, the advisory noted.

In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, RSV cases typically started increasing in the fall and would peak in the winter. But last winter, RSV cases surged earlier in the season and to higher than normal levels among children. Alongside rises in COVID-19 and flu cases, the situation created a “tripledemic” that strained hospital systems.

However, the current rise in RSV cases starting in the Southeast suggests “a continued shift toward seasonal RSV trends observed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CDC alert said.

Typically, an increase like this signals the start of RSV season, with cases spreading to the rest of the country over the next two to three months. So, both healthcare providers and the public should keep RSV in mind now.

Common RSV symptoms

RSV is a viral illness that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms, the CDC says. It’s an illness that’s common among children, and most people will have had RSV by their second birthday.

Those symptoms typically include:

  • Runny nose.
  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing.
  • Fever.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Wheezing.

Infants, young children and older adults are more likely to have severe symptoms that could require hospitalization. Those more serious symptoms can include trouble breathing or severe dehydration. RSV infections can also lead to bronchiolitis, or inflammation in the small airways of the lungs, and pneumonia.

How to prevent and treat RSV

For most people, RSV infections resolve on their own within a week or two, the CDC says, so antiviral medication isn’t typically recommended.

Home remedies may make you or your child feel better while recovering, such as staying hydrated and using over-the-counter medications (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to reduce fevers.

When it comes to prevention, there are some new options to consider this year, including a monoclonal antibody treatment for infants age 2 and under. Older adults ages 60 and up can also receive one of two vaccines to protect against RSV infections. Another vaccine, this one intended for pregnant people to protect their babies during their first winter season, may soon become available.

Of course, the classic disease-prevention methods still work, including frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with people who may be sick and avoiding touching your face (or your child’s face) with unwashed hands.

The CDC also suggests that parents of high-risk children consider limiting the time their kids spend in shared spaces, like child care settings, while RSV is spreading at high levels.

Will there be another tripledemic this year?

Although it’s still too early to know for sure, experts told previously that they expect our seasonal illnesses to start returning to pre-pandemic patterns this year.

“After a couple of years of this pandemic effect, we’re probably now going to start seeing (patterns in the U.S.) come back to what we saw pre-pandemic, in terms of the circulation of RSV, and influenza and other respiratory viruses,” Andy Pekosz, Ph.D., virologist and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told previously.

“These viruses quickly come back to an equilibrium where case numbers are then lower again because that pre-existing immunity is back in the population,” he said.

Dr. Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System, agreed. “It’s too early to say how RSV is going to do, but I am optimistic that it would be not as bad as last year,” he told previously.

Other illnesses, like the flu, COVID-19 and strep may play a role, too. While coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are currently on the rise, experts haven’t seen a worrying increase in flu or strep cases yet this season.

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