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What's RSV? Learn more about the respiratory virus outbreak

What's RSV? Learn more about the respiratory virus outbreak

If it seems like lots of folks are coughing and blowing their noses – they are. 

Like elsewhere in the nation, South Central Pennsylvania is seeing a surge in RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. RSV can impact anyone and result in anything from a mild cold to a hospital visit, particularly for very young children and older adults. Normally RSV rates peak from November to April, but RSV arrived early this year, spiking first this summer and sharply increasing again starting in September, a rise that continues. 

"Our offices are seeing a lot of children with RSV," says WellSpan pediatrician Dr. Vinitha Moopen. "It is coming a little earlier and a little harder than in past years." 

During the past two pandemic years, wearing masks and taking social isolation steps tamped down the circulation of viruses, Moopen says. Many people moved away from those precautions over the summer, opening the door for viruses to arrive early and robustly. 

Here is what you need to know about RSV. 

RSV is a virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia (lung infection). It is very common – most kids have infected with it by the age of 2.  

RSV causes coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, and a decreased appetite. It may also cause wheezing. 

RSV has the highest risk for premature infants, children less than 2 years old who have congenital heart or chronic lung conditions, and children OR adults who have compromised immune systems. People ages 65 and older are also at increased risk for serious disease. 

RSV is serious when it causes difficulty in breathing. Signs include: a high-pitched wheezing, struggling to feed or eat, struggling to breathe (visibly pulling in chest muscles or abdomen with each breath; feeling more comfortable breathing when sitting up, rather than lying down), severe cough, irritability, unusual fatigue, a high fever, and bluish lips or skin. Seek immediate medical attention if these worsening symptoms occur. 

RSV can be treated in the hospital with intravenous fluids, supplemental oxygen, suctioning of mucus, or mechanical ventilation. 

RSV can be prevented by frequent handwashing, disinfecting of hard surfaces, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, and staying home when you are sick. 

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