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Got a Cough, Runny Nose, Sore Throat and Fever? It Might Be RSV Virus

July 16, 2021

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Renown Urgent Care team prepares you to stay alert and safe this season and is available for medical assistance, 7 days a week at 11 locations across northern Nevada.

In June, staffers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a Health Advisory requesting that clinicians and caregivers watch for the respiratory syncytial virus, usually known as RSV, an infection that puts thousands of toddlers and senior citizens in the hospital each year with pneumonia and deep lung inflammation. According to the CDC, RSV results in roughly 58,000 hospitalizations and 100 to 500 deaths each year among children under five as well as 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths among adults 65 and above.

RSV was cropping up in 13 southern and southeastern states, the agency warned, and clinicians should test for the virus if kids showed up sneezing, wheezing, or with poor appetites and inflamed throats.

Usually a winter infection, RSV is usually gone by June. Instead, this year, it is spreading—and has since continued to spread across the country, and to northern Nevada.

“We know that many of the good hygiene habits we developed to defend against COVID-19 disrupted the viral landscape over the past 16 months, suppressing infections from almost every pathogen. Now RSV’s out-of-season return tells us that we need to continue to be on the alert,” says Robert Thole, MD, a physician with Renown Urgent Care. “We are surprised to be seeing so many kids with RSV right now.”

“We ask parents and caregivers to keep a watchful eye out for a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. Symptoms are usually mild and resemble those of the common cold. RSV infection sometimes leads to bronchiolitis, pneumonia, or both. Symptoms of these complications include; difficulty breathing; wheezing; coughing that is getting worse; lethargy, increased tiredness, decreased interest in surroundings, or loss of interest in food,” explains Dr. Thole, who is board certified in family medicine.

Catching and spreading the virus
People with RSV infection may spread the virus through their secretions (saliva or mucus) when they cough, sneeze, or talk. You can catch the virus by:

  • Touching an object or surface contaminated with the virus and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth without first washing your hands. The virus can survive for more than 6 hours on countertops and other hard surfaces, such as doorknobs, and for 30 minutes on hands, clothing, or tissue.
  • Close contact. If an infected person coughs or sneezes near you, you could breathe in RSV that is in his or her saliva or mucus.
  • The virus spreads easily in crowded settings, such as childcare facilities, preschools, and nursing homes. Children attending school often spread the virus to their parents and siblings. The incubation period—the time from exposure to RSV until you have symptoms—ranges from two to 8 days but usually is 4 to 6 days.

People are most likely to spread the virus within the first several days after symptoms of RSV infection begin and remain contagious for up to 8 days. Babies and young children may spread the virus for at least 3 to 4 weeks. Most children and adults feel better after a week or two.

For an otherwise healthy child who has symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, such as a cough or runny nose, home treatment usually is all that is needed. It is important to watch for signs of complications, such as dehydration. Watchful waiting may not be a good choice when your child with an upper respiratory infection has an increased risk for complications. Watch your child closely if there are symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. If symptoms get worse or new symptoms develop, see a doctor right away.

There is no vaccine and few specific treatments aside from supportive care, such as administering pain relievers and fluids. In the most severe cases, some children or adults might need additional oxygen.

Not just in kids, older adults at risk
Dr. Thole explains, “RSC is not only seen in children. Adults older than 65 have an increased risk of complications following infection with RSV. Pneumonia is a particular risk, especially if other health problems exist, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart failure. It may take older adults longer to recover from RSV infection and its complications than people in other age groups.”

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:

Call your doctor now if your baby or child has moderate trouble breathing.

Call a doctor if your child:

  • Breathes slightly faster than normal and seems to be getting worse. Most healthy children breathe less than 40 times a minute.
  • Has cold symptoms that become severe.
  • Has shallow coughing, which continues throughout the day and night.
  • Has a poor appetite or is being less active than usual.
  • Has any trouble breathing.

Doctors sometimes give a monoclonal antibody treatment to high-risk babies throughout the respiratory season to prevent them from catching the virus or developing a severe infection. Some hospitals have started to increase use of the prophylaxis in response to the recent uptick in RSV cases. “Those kids were being protected,” said Kristina Deeter, MD who was quoted in a July 1st Wall St. Journal article on this topic. Dr. Deeter is a pediatric intensivist and medical director at Renown Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care and Hospitalist Medicine. Dr. Deeter, who also oversees Pediatrix Medical Group’s critical-care team in dozens of pediatric intensive care units across the country, said hospitals are also considering taking additional precautions in the neonatal intensive-care unit similar to some wintertime protocols.

At Renown Children’s Hospital, there were no children hospitalized with RSV throughout the winter season, Dr. Deeter said, when there are normally hundreds of cases in our county- many of which do not need to be hospitalized.” A total of 31 cases have been reported in Washoe County, Nev., since April, and 26 of those occurred within the past three weeks.

Preventing infection
To prevent infection, or at least to mitigate them, wear masks, stay home when sick, and washing hands could make a difference in how the next viral season unfolds. For more information on RSV, visit renown.org.

Renown Urgent Care
Renown Urgent Care is available for medical assistance, 7 days a week at 11 locations across northern Nevada providing treatment for a wide range of minor injuries, illnesses and medical concerns that are urgent but not life-threatening. If you require same-day medical attention, you can avoid the long wait times and high prices of the emergency room at 13 convenient sites, including Reno, Sparks, Carson City, USA Parkway, Fallon and Fernley. You can walk-in or book ahead online.

About Renown Health
Renown Health is a locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving northern Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. Renown is one of the region’s largest private employers with a workforce of more than 7,000. It comprises three acute care hospitals, a rehabilitation hospital, the area’s most comprehensive medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest and only locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown has a long tradition and commitment to improve the care and the health of our community. For more information, visit renown.org.

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