The most common RSV symptoms doctors are seeing right now

This fall is shaping up to be a bad season for viruses. The flu is spreading at a high rate, COVID-19 continues to kill more than 300 people on average every day, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is on the rise.

To make matters even more difficult, these viruses often appear the same in those they infect, with similar symptoms including sneezing, coughing, fever, etc.

Not being able to tell what illness you have makes these viruses even more dangerous. Certain diseases are more of a concern for certain populations, and RSV in particular is dangerous for children (and it is also the most common in children).

There are ways to detect RSV, including testing at your doctor’s office and also home testing. If you get tested, you will know for sure if you have this virus, which will allow you to better protect yourself and your loved ones. But the symptoms can also give an indication. Experts shared with HuffPost the most common symptoms of RSV in children, healthy adults, and immunocompromised adults. Here’s what you need to know:

RSV is more common in children

RSV is traditionally very scary for small children under 5, especially [those] less than 2,” said Dr. Purva Grover, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Emergency Department. It is a virus that can affect their respiratory system and their ability to breathe.

What is different this year, however, is that RSV is also appearing in children aged 8 to 10. And it’s proving to be dangerous for kids in that age group, something that’s never been seen before, Grover added.

For children, irritability and loss of appetite along with sinus problems and coughing are the biggest red flags.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children infected with RSV may have a runny nose, congestion, cough, fever, or reduced appetite. In infants, irritability is a common symptom, along with a decreased appetite. These symptoms will not all occur at the same time, they will occur at different times throughout the course of the disease.

RSV is very common in children, so common, in fact, that the CDC notes that “almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.”

While many children get RSV and recover well, not everyone does. This becomes particularly concerning when children have difficulty breathing – such as when they are wheezing or gasping for air – which is often the case when parents bring them to the emergency room for treatment.

“Children come to the ER typically three to four days” after infection, Grover said. “The virus is starting to peak, the viral load is at its peak at this time and parents are bringing their children in due to respiratory distress.”

Also, because children breathe so fast to try to take in enough air, they often end up dehydrated when they have RSV.

“Tthey have trouble drinking and everything they drink is metabolized so quickly,” because of their rapid breathing, Grover said.

In immunocompromised adults, RSV symptoms may resemble those of the flu and may progress to pneumonia

In adults, the most severe effects of RSV are often seen in immunocompromised people, said Dr. Cesar A. Arias, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Houston Methodist Hospital and co-director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at Houston Methodist. Research Institute. .

People who fall into this category typically undergo chemotherapy, receive an organ or bone marrow transplant, or take immunosuppressive drugs, Arias said.

In this situation, “infection present [with] flu-like symptoms but eventually progress to pneumonia,” he said.

He added that the symptoms of pneumonia differ from person to person depending on their degree of immunosuppression. “It could be a lot of [coughing] to a more severe presentation where the respiratory status is affected”, which means that the infected person has difficulty breathing.

People at high risk of developing serious illness who notice these dangerous symptoms are those who go to the hospital for treatment, he noted.

He pointed out that even if you don’t have cancer or are not an organ transplant recipient, common chronic conditions like diabetes, advanced heart disease and COPD can still put you at risk. higher risk of developing more severe RSV symptoms.

“Even a mild infection can kind of push you over the edge depending on your physiological reserve,” Arias said. If you have heart or lung problems, RSV could be difficult for your body to deal with and could lead to heart attacks or other problems associated with the stress that respiratory infections put on your body.

Many adults with RSV will have mild symptoms that mimic a sinus infection or a cold.

If you’re an adult with a healthy immune system, you probably don’t have to worry about your own health if you get infected with RSV.

“We have not seen a worrying train of increase in hospitalizations due to RSV in [non-immunocompromised adult] populations,” said Arias. But that doesn’t mean healthy adults don’t get sick and visit their GP.

For adults who are not immunocompromised, symptoms are usually mild and resemble a cold or sinus infection. RSV is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, so Grover says healthy adults can expect symptoms like a runny nose and congestion.

Adults should also watch for shortness of breath, chest pain and inability to breathe deeply, which are also common signs of RSV, she said. Additionally, healthy adults can expect a mild fever, sore throat, and cough, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Those most at risk of developing severe RSV are immunocompromised adults, the elderly, and young children.  For other people, it will probably look like a normal upper respiratory infection.

FG Commerce via Getty Images

Those most at risk of developing severe RSV are immunocompromised adults, the elderly, and young children. For other people, it will probably look like a normal upper respiratory infection.

In general, adults with a healthy immune system are able to “fight” this virus, but that does not stop transmission.

Adults who are not immunocompromised can “fight off” this virus due to their strong immune systems, so symptoms will more than likely be quite mild.

But, as COVID-19 shows, “a sniff for you might be OK, but [if spread], it could literally kill the little one and the old person,” Grover said. This is especially the case for adults who may be caregivers or relatives of children or people with weakened immune systems.

Grover and Arias both said that to protect yourself and others, you should wear a mask in crowded spaces, stay home if you’re sick, practice good hand hygiene, and make sure you’re up to date on your COVID-19 vaccination, especially with the new COVID-19 bivalent booster, and you have had your flu shot.

There is no vaccine for RSV, although there are currently vaccines in development.

Arias noted that getting tested if you have symptoms is also a good idea, as it can determine the type of virus you have and the best treatment plan. There’s a three-in-one test that checks for influenza, RSV, and COVID-19.

It pays to be careful because three highly contagious and potentially deadly viruses spread so quickly. And in terms of RSV, “frankly right now I would consider everyone a carrier,” Grover said.

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