Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) - Know the Symptoms and Seek Early Treatment
By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than thirty-four million Americans are expected to provide care to their elderly family members this year. However, providing at-home care during the winter months can be extremely challenging due to the high prevalence of cold, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
According to professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III, RSV is a viral infection that can result in severe respiratory illnesses, which could lead to hospitalization and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that RSV causes approximately 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths among adults over the age of sixty-five annually.
Although RSV is widely considered to be a childhood disease, it is important to understand the preventative measures as well as the symptoms to ensure the well-being of older loved ones during this year's cold and flu season.
Angie, a lively senior, dedicated her time to volunteering, practicing yoga, and doing cardiovascular exercises at a local gym. However, she developed a cough in early February of this year, which she initially thought was due to the dry heat in her home. To alleviate it, she started using a humidifier to add moisture to the air. As the cough persisted, she decided to seek medical attention from her primary care doctor in early March. The doctor referred her to a pulmonologist who prescribed an inhaler and over-the-counter medications to help her condition.
Angie's cough got worse by mid-March, and she started experiencing wheezing, fatigue, and difficulty breathing during her outdoor walks. Worried that she may have contracted COVID, she revisited her doctor. The medical team conducted both COVID-19 and RSV tests, and the results came back positive for RSV. Angie was surprised by the diagnosis as she had believed that the virus mostly affected children.
Angie mentioned to us that her cough had become so severe one night that she decided to visit the emergency room to get some relief. However, the breathing treatment she received during her visit did little to alleviate her symptoms. Although she had contracted the flu a few years ago, she explained that she was experiencing all the flu symptoms she had in the past except for the fever, but RSV gave her a terrible, hacking cough that left her with an aching pain in her rib and abdominal area.
As a result of her bout with RSV, she experienced symptoms such as fatigue, wheezing, coughing, and a congested nose for several months. Despite the challenges she faced during her recovery, she succeeded in returning to her normal healthy state and is now able to participate in activities again and spend quality time with her grandchildren. Her personal experience has motivated her to raise awareness about RSV among seniors, and she has become an advocate for the cause.
What is RSV?
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a prevalent virus that may appear as a mild cold to healthy adults. In most cases, individuals will recuperate swiftly with self-care within a week or two. However, for older adults, particularly those with asthma, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the virus can be considerably more severe and may even prove fatal. RSV can arise anytime, but reported cases are most prevalent between November and April.
It is also possible for adults to experience severe symptoms that are similar to pneumonia. Based on epidemiologic evidence, individuals aged sixty and above are at the greatest risk of developing severe RSV disease if they have any of the following chronic conditions:
Lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and asthma)
Chronic cardiovascular diseases (such as congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
Other underlying conditions that a health care provider determines might increase the risk for severe respiratory disease
History of RSV
RSV is not a newly discovered virus. It was first identified in 1956 in a group of chimpanzees who were suffering from colds and rhinitis. Initially named chimpanzee coryza agent (CCA), the virus was later found in two children with serious lung infections and eventually in a wider group of youngsters. It was then renamed respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Since RSV often seems like a cold or the flu, your doctor will try to figure out exactly what you have. First, they’ll ask questions about your medical history. They’ll pay special attention to the symptoms you tell them about. Next, your doctor will give you a physical exam. If they suspect RSV, they’ll do some follow-up lab tests, which may include:
Rapid RSV antigen test: This is the most efficient way to diagnose RSV. A fluid sample is taken from your nose using a nasal swab or gentle suction to check for specific proteins called antigens. Results are generally available within an hour.
Molecular test: In some cases, the virus may only be present in small amounts in the nose. For elderly individuals, an RT-PCR test that involves a nasal swab may be more effective in detecting smaller amounts of the virus as compared to an antigen test. The collected samples are typically sent to a laboratory for analysis. Your doctor may also perform a respiratory panel test to check for RSV in addition to other viruses and bacteria.
You don't need to take any special preparatory measures for these tests. However, you may experience some discomfort from the nasal swab. These tests are most effective when administered during the first few days of symptoms.
RSV, a common respiratory virus, is highly contagious and can cause illnesses ranging from mild cold-like symptoms to severe respiratory infections, especially in infants and older adults. People infected with RSV can spread the virus for 3 to 8 days, and they may start transmitting the virus a day or two before showing any symptoms.
In some cases, such as in infants and people with weakened immune systems, the virus can still be spread even after the symptoms have stopped, for as long as four weeks.
The virus is commonly found in schools, childcare centers, and other public places where children are often exposed to it and can spread it to their families. RSV can survive for several hours on hard surfaces and for a shorter time on soft surfaces such as hands and tissues.
It is important to take preventive measures such as washing hands regularly and avoiding close contact with infected individuals to reduce the risk of infection.
RSV can spread when
An infected person coughs or sneezes
You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
Stopping the Spread
There are simple hygiene measures you can take at home to minimize the spread of RSV. These include:
Handwashing: Regular and thorough handwashing using soap and water is a simple yet highly effective measure in preventing the transmission of RSV. It is crucial to emphasize this practice for both adults and children, especially after being in crowded public places or after encountering individuals who may be carriers of the virus.
Sneezing/coughing etiquette: Teaching proper cough and sneeze etiquette, along with tissue disposal and handwashing, can limit respiratory droplet spread and reduce RSV transmission.
Don’t get too close: Minimizing close contact with individuals exhibiting respiratory illness symptoms is essential, especially in high-risk settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and daycare centers.
"There is still much to learn about how the human body responds to RSV infection, even after decades of research," said Attorney Connelly. "The virus can affect the immune system in ways that make it challenging to create effective treatments. However, numerous research teams are now dedicating their efforts to RSV. There is currently a test to identify this virus and a vaccine available."
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