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Protection from Respiratory Viruses This Holiday Season

As we gather with families and friends to prepare for the holidays, we are also keeping an eye out for signs of illness that can put a damper on festivities. Cameron Family Medicine’s Jessica Ottenweller-Butcher, M.D., and Cameron Pediatrics’ Josiah Reish, CPNP, sat down to discuss the three illnesses that are currently surging in the United States – COVID-19, RSV and influenza.

A closer look at RSV

Many families in our community are currently dealing with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. RSV is a viral infection that typically causes respiratory complications and tends to peak in late fall and early winter. Symptoms include low- to moderate-grade fever with nasal congestion, coughing and sore throat.

In general, younger patients are most at risk of contracting RSV, with the most vulnerable group being young infants under 3 months old. Elderly individuals are also at an increased risk.

If your child exhibits symptoms of RSV, there’s no need to panic. While some children can become significantly ill, an overwhelming majority of them experience mild illness and do not require hospitalization. However, if your child stops eating or is in respiratory distress, hospitalization may be necessary. Symptoms of respiratory distress include labored breathing, an increase in the number of breaths per minute, nose flaring and chest retractions, in which the chest appears to sink in just below the neck or under the breastbone with each breath.

For most RSV cases, Josiah says symptoms generally abate with time. Typically, days 4 and 5 are the worst for RSV patients. Cool mist vaporizers can help children cough up mucus more easily and assist with sticky airways. A bulb suction or nasal suction can also be used to clean out the nose prior to feeding or when an infant is especially congested. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against treating infants and toddlers with routine cough medications. However, Josiah does recommend over the counter cough and cold medicine for adults with symptoms of RSV.

How to spot influenza

Dr. Ottenweller-Butcher says influenza symptoms typically appear abruptly. They generally involve fever, unproductive coughing and muscle aches and pains. Other signs include malaise, sore throat, nausea, nasal congestion and headache, and 10-20% of children also experience vomiting and diarrhea. The severity of infection can vary with different strains of the virus, but vaccinated individuals typically experience significantly less severe symptoms.

What’s the difference between the COVID-19, RSV and flu?

 These sicknesses are caused by different viruses. While they share many of the same symptoms, they have unique symptoms and also differ in treatment, transmission and incubation period.

Symptoms – COVID-19, RSV and flu symptoms have a few key distinctions:

  • Loss or change of taste or smell usually happens only with COVID-19.
  • Wheezing is most commonly a symptom of RSV.
  • High fever is a strong sign of influenza.

Transmission – COVID-19, RSV and influenza are spread differently. The flu and COVID-19 are passed along by droplets in the air, while RSV commonly spreads when a person contacts a contaminated surface.

Treatments – COVID-19 can be treated with IV monoclonal antibodies and oral medication such as Paxlovid and Molnupiravir. For severe cases of RSV, respiratory medications and steroids are used.
Tamiflu is a common antiviral medication used to treat influenza.

Incubation period – The time from exposure to onset of illness, called the incubation period, also varies. RSV’s average incubation period is five days with a range of two to eight days. Influenza’s incubation is an average of two days with a range of one to four. COVID-19 takes an average of three days for onset of symptoms but they can appear anywhere from two to 14 days.

What you can do to prevent respiratory illnesses

The easiest way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19. Cameron offers both immunizations at our Immunization Clinic. To schedule an appointment, visit cameronmch.com/services/immunization.

You can also prevent illness by washing your hands often, especially before eating or drinking. Try to avoid socializing with people who are feeling ill and consider wearing a mask when attending large indoor gatherings. Opening the windows in your home periodically can also decrease chances of contracting flu, RSV or COVID-19.

For more information about Cameron’s pediatric and family medicine services, explore our website or find a location near you.

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