What is RSV, and why is it surging?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus is also known as RSV

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ORLANDO, Fla. – A common and vaccine-less respiratory disease that most people catch and deal with very early in life, yet is known to cause serious breathing problems for babies, is surging in some parts of the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, known as RSV, is described by the CDC as a virus that causes mild, cold-like symptoms, with infected people usually reaching recovery in one or two weeks. RSV can be serious despite the general turnaround time, especially for infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems, CDC said.

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RSV can inflict anyone, but most American children catch it by 2 years old. Those infected normally stay contagious for three to eight days, while babies and people with weakened immune systems can spread it for as many as four weeks.

Current increases in RSV case detections across the country are attributed to the reemergence of young people who were sheltered from common illnesses during coronavirus-related lockdowns. Additionally, while it’s believed mothers infected with RSV during pregnancy transfer some protection from the virus to their babies’ immune systems, that hasn’t been happening as much, either.

In the week ending Oct. 22, CDC reported more than 7,000 positive tests, higher than previous surges.

No specific treatment exists for RSV infections, and vaccine candidates are still currently in testing. While oral steroids or inhalers may help patients, oxygen, breathing tubes or ventilators may become involved in serious cases, and treating RSV is seen as a matter of simply managing symptoms while the virus runs its course.

In its recommendations to help people avoid catching or spreading RSV during an on-season, CDC advised the following:

  • Avoid close contact with the sick.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Stay at home if you’re sick.

According to Dr. Russell Migita, of Seattle Children’s Hospital, those worried that their child is having a severe breathing problem due to RSV should not hesitate to go to an emergency department or call 911. For less severe medical problems, Migita said, call your regular health care provider for advice, use telehealth or go to urgent care.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About the Authors:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.