When Should I Worry About...

What the Rise of RSV Cases Means For Kids & Adults

Oct. 21, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Many areas of the country are currently experiencing an unusually high spread of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and some children’s hospitals have even reported being overwhelmed by the number of cases.

As a parent, you're likely wondering what the rise in RSV cases means for you and your family — particularly with both the flu and COVID-19 also in the mix.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms. It's often a mild illness that most people recover from in a week or two, according to the CDC.

But Dr. Wesley Long, director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist, says that's not all people need to know about RSV. 

RSV is most concerning for kids

"RSV can be a particularly nasty cold for kids, and it can actually cause severe disease in premature babies or some kids," warns Dr. Long.

With several viruses looming, all of which can pass fairly easily from person to person, it's important to continue to remind kids of the behaviors that help prevent the spread of germs.

"The good news is that the everyday precautions you and your family take to stay safe from the flu and COVID-19 will also help protect you from RSV," says Dr. Long.

This includes things like hand washing, avoiding crowds and taking extra precautions to protect family members who are most vulnerable.

If your child does get sick, be sure to monitor their symptoms and consult your child's pediatrician if things get worse or don't improve.

Adults can get pretty sick, too

As for adults, RSV usually isn't of huge concern, but it can cause a really annoying cold that all of us would rather avoid.

"It can be one of those two- or three-week, hacking-cough types of colds," adds Dr. Long.

And since adults can pass it to people who are more vulnerable, including young children, it's always important to stay home if you're sick.

It's impossible to know if you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19 without getting tested

Speaking of a cough — those put us all on high alert these days. How do you know if it's RSV, the flu or COVID-19? Unfortunately, you probably can't.

Dr. Long's advice: If you have any respiratory symptoms at all, get tested so you can at least make sure it's not the flu or COVID-19.

"The symptoms of an RSV cold and these other illnesses are going to overlap, so it's near impossible for someone to self-diagnose which you have at home," says Dr. Long. "A scratchy throat could be a cold, or even just allergies."

But it could also be COVID-19 or the flu, both of which we have treatments for. And flu cases are on the rise right now.

Getting tested to rule out the flu or COVID-19 is important since it can help guide prompt, effective treatment.

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...