RSV- How is it different than the Flu?

If your like many folks, the big focus in winter respiratory illness is the flu and you haven’t heard of RSV.  Or recently, ,you’ve started to hear about some folks coming down with RSV or being hospitalized from it. Flu is a really big hitter, especially this year, and gets the media coverage because it’s spreading so quickly, sending a record number of people to doctors and the hospital.

So here are some facts on RSV in the United States:

  • In kiddos less than 5 years old-
    • it causes ~ 2 million outpatient visits/ year and
    • Almost 60,000 hospitalizations/ year
  • In folks > 65 years old, it causes
    • Close to 180,000 hospitalizations/year
    • Around ~ 14,000 deaths/year

RSV infections generally peak from October to about April. The infection can be very severe, especially in young children < 6 months old and folks older than 65, and immune compromised.

Wait, those are the same people and the same months when flu is at higher risk, right? Yep. There is a cross over.

So how do I know if its the flu or RSV? 

RSV comes on slowly, unlike the rapid onset of flu symptoms (click here).

RSV can include:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • wheezing

Most kids have had an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old. For most people, the infection is mild, and goes away on its own in 1-2 weeks. But for others, it makes breathing difficult and they may become dehydrated, making a short stay at the hospital necessary to help support breathing and get rehydrated. My own son had breathing issues from suspected RSV when he was just a couple of months old. We were sent home with a  nebulizer to help him breath, but the next step was to get admitted to the hospital if he didn’t get better.  We were lucky, and he got better, But sometimes, we have kiddos admitted to the hops tail I work in that need some extra help breathing for a bit, and they are put on ventilators.

What can I take to cure RSV if I have it? 

Well, unfortunately, nothing. Unlike Tamiflu (click here) to treat the flu, there is not medicine available to treat RSV infection. There is a injection that is given monthly during the RSV months to premature babies and some babies with chronic lung or heart conditions that may help reduce their risk of getting RSV. But there is no cure for it.

Symptom treatment, rest, and fluids are your best bet. Over the counter pain medicine can help a fever ( see warnings here about aspirin use in children and teens) and antihistamines to help dry up the runny nose.

You can reduce your chances of getting or sharing an RSV infection by sneezing into a tissue, or your elbow, washing your hand regularly, starting home form work or school when you have a head cold, and staying clear of people with runny,sneezy noses.

To view reported RSV trends in your state, click here. 

Stay healthy, folks!

 

 

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