Essential Tips for RSV Season: Understanding RSV’s Symptoms, Treatment, & Remedies
Respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, is a viral airborne illness that commonly infects children and infants. While this illness is more prevalent in younger age groups and vulnerable populations, it can also infect healthy adults during seasonal spikes. So, when is RSV season during the year? Prevalent from the start of autumn till the end of spring, RSV spreads mostly in periods with cold temperatures when people are likely to remain in closed spaces and in close contact with each other.
The virus primarily spreads through contaminated air and droplets, making transmission much more likely in the colder months. Though RSV causes only mild illness in most adults, it can sometimes lead to complications such as pneumonia and the infection of bronchioles in vulnerable individuals. The risk is especially high in children and newborns, making it important to know what to do if your baby has RSV. With a variety of flu-like diseases prevalent in chilly temperatures, it’s essential to understand what to do for RSV infections to support recovery with the requisite treatment and remedies. Read on to know more about RSV in adults, its symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
What are the Symptoms of RSV?
- RSV is an illness that often presents with flu and cold-like symptoms.
- They first appear between five days to a week following first contact with the virus; whether through the air, via droplets, or from contaminated surfaces.
- Though mild, the symptoms can last for up to 10 days in adults, making the illness a drawn-out condition that can cause considerable discomfort.
- The virus commonly infects the upper respiratory tract, however, in people with weakened immune systems and debilitating diseases, it can spread to the lower respiratory tract and involve the bronchioles and pleural space.
- Prevalent symptoms during an RSV infection often include:
- Runny Nose: Like all upper respiratory tract infections, RSV can lead to inflammation in the mucous membranes, resulting in the release of fluids and mucus to flush out the virus. A runny nose can eventually cause stuffiness due to prolonged buildup and a lack of clearance.
- Fever: Given that RSV is a viral infection, it is accompanied by fever. While the fever is often above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in children, they are often low-grade in adults. However, higher temperatures might be noted in individuals with compromised immunity.
- Malaise & Fatigue: The infection can often cause muscle tenderness due to the presence of inflammatory compounds in circulation. This can also leave people tired and lacking in energy, a symptom common in viral infections.
- Sore throat: The RSV virus can end up infecting the tonsils and cause both sore throat and throat pain. This symptom can cause considerable discomfort and distress. The lymph nodes around the neck can also swell up due to an infection of the tonsils.
- Sneezing: Nasal irritation and rhinitis caused by RSV can result in sneezing. This is due to the inflamed nasal lining becoming more sensitive and irritable.
- Cough: Coughing is another common symptom of RSV in adults. While the cough can be mild, an infection of the lower respiratory structures leads to wheezing, fluid build-up, and expectorant cough, as opposed to the dry cough seen in mild infections.
- RSV symptoms can become severe in adults that fall under the at-risk categories. Individuals that take prescription immunosuppressants, suffer from debilitating diseases like diabetes, cancer, or AIDS; or have congenital or genetic anomalies are at increased risk of contracting severe RSV infections. Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:
- Shortness of Breath: Breathing difficulties are common when the lower parts of the respiratory pathways become obstructed by phlegm and inflammatory fluid. Panting upon walking either 50 steps or less is a sign of breathing difficulty. This symptom often indicates fluid in the lungs or an infection of the bronchioles.
- Wheezing: Wheezing occurs due to thick mucus build-up in the respiratory pathways. The inflamed tracts often produce inflammatory fluid to flush out the viruses, however, this can proceed to obstruct the airways instead. Crackling or whistling sounds between breathing cycles, or after exhalation, are important signs to watch out for.
- Shallow & Rapid Breathing: In the event of insufficient oxygen supply, infected individuals switch to taking short and shallow breaths to compensate for the shortfall in supply.
What to Do for RSV: Understanding the Virus
- The RSV virus is an RNA-based virus that remains contagious for considerable periods throughout the cycle of the disease in humans.
- It is capable of surviving on hard surfaces for several hours and can live for up to half an hour in the hands of carriers and the infected. If you’re wondering what to do about RSV, bear in mind that frequent handwashing is integral to improving health.
- RSV can enter through cavities in the head such as the mouth, nostrils, and eyes. Much like COVID-19, touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with dirty hands raises the risk of developing RSV.
- RSV can also spread in spaces such as hospitals, making it an important nosocomial infection to watch out for in both children and adults.
- Actions such as kissing and coming in close contact with an infected individual can also result in the spread of infection.
- Using disinfectant to wipe down and sanitize potentially contaminated surfaces and those objects that remain in close contact with the infected, go a long way in killing the virus and preventing its spread.
- So, how long does RSV in adults remain contagious? Often, adults can spread the disease for up to four to seven days after contracting the infection. Adults with weakened immunity may spread the virus for longer durations.
Diagnosing RSV: Tests & Examinations
- Doctors will often make a diagnosis merely by taking note of your symptoms and by correlating them with any outbreaks of RSV in the area.
- However, in case your doctor wants to remain completely sure of their diagnosis, they might recommend an RSV PCR test like the one offered by Lenco. The process is similar to that of the COVID-19 PCR test. The test creates multiple copies of the infected cells collected from a swab sample. The amplified set of DNA will make any viral genetic material more detectable in the sample, allowing doctors to confirm the infection and its type.
- RSV antigen tests also exist and require a sample of the nasal fluid to detect the virus.
- Your doctor will often swab your nose, mouth, or the back of your throat to collect a sample for the PCR test.
- In case of severe symptoms, your doctor might recommend advanced imaging tests such as CT scans and X-rays to check for fluid in the lungs.
- In rare cases, viral infections can exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma. In individuals with severe breathing difficulties, the doctor might continue monitoring oxygen saturation to ensure sufficient oxygen is reaching the body.
How to Treat RSV at Home for Adults
- Since most cases of RSV are mild, home management is often sufficient for an illness like RSV.
- The illness often lasts between one to two weeks, and can easily be handled with symptomatic management.
- Natural treatments for RSV often involve keeping hydrated and resting sufficiently to help the body combat the virus better.
- Eating light but nutritious food can also help you avoid overloading the digestive tract during the illness.
- Over-the-counter Tylenol is capable of relieving symptoms such as fever and malaise.
- Avoid smoking during the illness and stay away from any pollutants to avoid irritating the upper respiratory tract.
- Use a saline nasal spray or wash to help your body naturally clear out clogged mucus. This will clear the nostrils and allow you to breathe better.
- Using cool-air humidifiers can also aid in the better clearance of mucus, and rehydrate dry nasal passages and breathing pathways. This eases the irritation caused by inflammation of the tissues in these regions.
- In some cases, RSV cannot be treated at home. Severe occurrences of RSV require you to visit the doctor and receive prescribed treatment.
- Doctors will suggest oxygen therapy in case they determine you’re receiving less oxygen.
- Mucolytic drugs to clear the built-up congestion are another medication doctors use to help your body clear out the phlegm in the respiratory tract.
- In case of pneumonia, doctors might insert a thin tube that will suck out the fluid and mucus from the lungs.
- Certain people might be given antiviral drugs such as palivizumab and ribavirin to help their bodies fight away the virus.
- To improve fluid intake, doctors might insert an intravenous line to ensure the infected individual remains hydrated and nourished.
- Avoiding close contact with sick adults and children goes a long way in preventing the RSV disease.
- What to do for RSV if you already have it? Practicing social distancing, along with covering your mouth with a tissue or kerchief when sneezing and coughing, can also help. Wearing a mask also allows you to impede the spread of the virus.
- Sanitize frequently used surfaces with medical sanitation solutions to kill the viruses.
- Handwash frequently to reduce the risk of transmission to both yourself and others around you.
Do not avoid seeing a doctor if you fear that you have contracted RSV and are facing any of the above severe symptoms. Though it's a low-risk illness in adults, RSV can still take a serious turn and affect overall health. Be watchful during the illness’ season and follow all precautionary measures to avoid catching the virus.