Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus, a virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. It usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

According to the CDC, RSV is very contagious and virtually all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old.

Most people who get an RSV infection will have mild illness and will recover in a week or two. However, some groups are more likely to get serious complications if they get sick with RSV. These include:  

• Premature infants

• Very young infants (6 months and younger)

• Young children with congenital (from birth) heart or chronic lung disease

• Young children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment

• Adults with compromised immune systems

• Older adults (65 years and older)

RSV is currently circulating in Fairfax County. Data from emergency departments and urgent care centers in the community have shown a rapid increase in the number of people who have been diagnosed with RSV since early September. The Virginia Department of Health issued information this week indicating that emergency department and urgent care visits for children diagnosed with RSV have quadrupled since early September.

Practice preventive health habits to reduce chance of infection and call your healthcare provider if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.

Healthy habits can help reduce the chance of RSV infection, including:

Wash your hands often: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Washing your hands will help protect you from germs.

Keep your hands off your face: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Germs spread this way.

Avoid close contact with sick people: Avoid close contact, such as kissing, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who have cold-like symptoms.

Cover your coughs and sneezes: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.

Clean and disinfect surfaces: Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that people frequently touch, such as toys, doorknobs, and mobile devices. When people infected with RSV touch surfaces and objects, they can leave behind germs. Also, when they cough or sneeze, droplets containing germs can land on surfaces and objects.

Stay home when you are sick: If possible, stay home from work, school, and public areas when you are sick. This will help protect others from catching your illness.

Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should:

• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

• Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others

• Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices

Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with and should refrain from kissing children at high risk for severe RSV disease. If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before interacting with such children.

Preventative medicine for high risk

A drug called palivizumab (pah-lih-VIH-zu-mahb) is available to prevent severe RSV illness in certain infants and children who are at high risk for severe disease. The drug can help prevent serious RSV disease, but it cannot help cure or treat children already suffering from serious RSV disease, and it cannot prevent infection with RSV.

If your child is at high risk for severe RSV disease, talk to your healthcare provider to see if palivizumab can be used as a preventive measure.

Vaccines - not yet

Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines, but none are available yet.

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