As fall gets fully underway, experts see an increase in cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among all ages; the season extends through winter and into early spring. It’s important to be aware of how these viruses spread, as well as the symptoms, and steps you can take to avoid days or even weeks of misery.
The flu virus is spread through the transmission of droplets, whether that’s by sneezing, coughing, talking, or close direct contact. Droplets can travel six feet and land on faces. Sometimes people can become infected through hard surfaces such as school desks, and then by touching their faces.
According to Dr. Shauna Gulley, Centura Health Physician Group, people are often contagious before showing any symptoms.
“Individuals are contagious two days prior to showing symptoms through the entire time they are sick,” said Dr. Gulley. “As the body fights off the flu, it is taking care of its immune system, which is why it’s important that everyone cough into their sleeves, which is far safer than covering the mouth with your hand. If another person in your household has the flu, it’s likely that you will contract the virus within two days.”
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, body aches, head ache, fatigue, and sore throat. When parents or their children have these symptoms, Dr. Gulley recommends seeking medical attention right away, so if the flu is present, there’s time to start anti-viral medications within 24 hours, when they are maximally effective. Up to 48 hours, anti-viral medications are somewhat effective, but not beyond that. If those with the flu have missed this window of opportunity, the best method for combating the virus is to get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and use over-the-counter medications for symptoms.
“If parents see these symptoms in themselves or their children, it’s likely they have the flu at this time of year,” added Dr. Gulley. “Colds also run rampant during the flu season, but it’s always safe to make sure that what appears to be a cold isn’t something worse.”
In order to prevent the flu, Dr. Gulley highly recommends that everyone have a flu vaccination. She assures that people cannot get the flu from the vaccine, and that it gives the body the ability to activate its immune response quickly and efficiently.
She also recommends staying away from others who have colds and flu, wash hands, and keep children home from school when they are sick. Those who fall into high-risk categories include those under the age of five, those older than 65, and those who do not receive the flu vaccine.
RSV is another common virus affecting people during the fall and winter months, although it can appear any time of year. RSV is extremely contagious, infects the respiratory tract, and leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults, children, and babies. Babies are at the highest risk for RSV, where the virus can be more serious. RSV usually occurs in children under the age of two. RSV is also a concern for the elderly.
The symptoms of RSV include a sticky cough with congestion and sneezing. It can be easily passed back and forth between babies, and often presents as a severe version of a cold. Babies have smaller nasal passages, and lung secretions block their airways. They often have a hard time eating, drinking, along with fever, wheezing, and respiratory distress.
“These symptoms require immediate attention,” said Dr. Gulley. “Babies die every year from RSV, which is most fatal in children. This is why it’s crucial to rely on medical professionals who can maintain hydration and suction out the secretion from the nose and airways. In serious cases, children may be hospitalized and given supplemental oxygen, more aggressive suctioning, and doctors may use tools with soft fiber plastic that enter the nasal canal to clear the airway.”
Those who have RSV are often better in a week, but complications include triggering of an asthma attack and pneumonia, so it’s important to stay on top of symptoms and be monitored by a healthcare professional.
Like the flu, prevention includes keeping distance from others who are sick, and washing hands often.
“This is one reason we’re so protective of babies for the first few months of their lives,” added Dr. Gulley. “These viruses can be extremely serious, which is why prevention and early detection is essential.”
Those most vulnerable to RSV include those with other illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, emphysema, or congestive heart failure. These co-morbidities can often be dangerous and fatal.