Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of RSV, a cold-like respiratory illness, amid a rise in cases across the southern United States
The Public Health Agency issued an official advisory on Thursday urging clinicians and caregivers to be on the lookout for the virus, which is known to attack the lungs and respiratory tract. Experts said they have seen an increase in positive infections in at least a dozen states, including Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Because of this increased activity, the CDC encourages broader testing for RSV among patients with acute respiratory disease who test negative for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the adviser said. “RSV can be associated with severe illness in young children and older adults.”
Viral cases typically peak during the fall and winter, the CDC says, resulting in about 58,000 admissions to the United States each year.
Infants and children are at the highest risk of serious illness due to RSV, as are older adults who have underlying medical conditions, according to the agency.
Here’s what you need to know and how to protect yourself and your family:
What is RSV?
RSV or respiratory syncytial virus is an upper respiratory tract disease that typically spreads through airborne droplets when someone sneezes or coughs, according to the CDC. You can also catch it through direct contact with a contaminated surface.
It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, experts say, and pneumonia infections in children younger than 1.
Signs and symptoms of RSV
RSV usually presents as a cold with symptoms including cough, headache, runny nose and fever, says the CDC. In younger patients, especially infants, the virus can cause discomfort or irritability, loss of appetite and lethargy before more common symptoms such as coughing or sneezing occur.
While there is no specific treatment for RSV, public health experts say people usually recover after one to two weeks.
Others, however, can become very ill. Each year, 177,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized, and it is estimated that 14,000 die from RSV infection, according to CDC data.
Can you be tested for RSV?
Testing is typically not required to diagnose a positive RSV infection, according to the American Lung Association. However, doctors may run a blood test or take a stick to confirm.
Additional tests may be needed in more severe cases, experts say, and may include an X-ray or CT scan of the breast.
Is there a vaccine against RSV?
No. Plans to develop a vaccine and antiviral drugs that are effective against RSV are still ongoing, the CDC says.
In 2019, early trials with an experimental RSV vaccine showed promising results by triggering “large increases in RSV-neutralizing antibodies maintained for several months,” according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“A vaccine to prevent RSV is a much-sought-after goal that has eluded us for decades,” said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci at the time. “The early results of this trial suggest that this structure-based strategy for the development of an RSV vaccine may bring this goal within reach.”
How to prevent RSV spread
To slow the spread of RSV, the CDC recommends frequent hand washing, dry, high-touch surfaces, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching your face, and limiting contact with others who may be ill.