What Is RSV?

December 5, 2022
Picture of a sick girl lying in bed with her teddy bear, with various medications on her nightstand.

Whether you have a child in school whose health you need to worry about or have simply heard about the term while watching the news lately, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) may be something you’re wondering—or worrying—about more recently. But what exactly is RSV, and how do you tell the difference between RSV and COVID-19? PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here to help by answering those questions and more.

RSV Vs. COVID: What You Need to Know

RSV is a common virus that affects the respiratory system, causing infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. The virus can often lead to mild, cold-like symptoms—part of the reason why it is often confused with COVID-19 or the common cold. However, it’s important to note that RSV and COVID are caused by two different viruses. Because of this, the methods for prevention and treatment vary for each.

Signs & Symptoms of RSV

The symptoms of RSV typically present within four to six days after infection. The signs can often mimic those of the common cold, with specific symptoms to look out for including:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing (particularly a dry cough)
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat

If RSV worsens, it can spread to the lower respiratory tract and cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis. To know if a case of RSV has gotten to this stage, you’ll want to look out for signs like severe coughing, intense wheezing, rapid or difficult breathing, and cyanosis (a bluish color of the skin caused by lack of oxygen).

Who Does RSV Affect?

Anyone—including healthy adults—can contract RSV, but the infection most commonly causes complications in children and older adults or those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma. While most individuals will recover in just one to two weeks, life-threatening cases can occur and may require professional medical intervention or a hospital stay. This is most likely to be the case for premature infants, children under 12 months old, and anyone with chronic problems of the lungs or heart.

RSV Causes & Risk Factors

Similar to other airborne illnesses, the virus that causes RSV is spread easily through the air or through direct contact via droplets and can enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. That means that if an infected individual coughs or sneezes near you, you or your child could become infected. Most children will become infected with RSV by the age of two, but the illness can be contracted more than once.

Risk factors can include some factors that are difficult to avoid, such as attending a childcare center or having a sibling who goes to school most days of the week. Outbreaks also tend to occur during certain times of the year, especially in the fall through the end of spring. Additional risk factors for RSV can include:

  • Premature birth
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Age above 65

RSV Treatment

Most RSV infections will go away on their own, but additional care may be needed for serious cases. While there is no specific treatment for the virus, steps can be taken to relieve symptoms and prevent the patient’s condition from worsening. This can include everything from drinking enough fluids to taking certain medications to reduce fever and pain, but professional care from an urgent care center or hospital may be needed.

If you would like more information about RSV or if you or your child needs non-emergency medical treatment for an infection, PhysicianOne Urgent Care can help. Come into one of our conveniently located centers today, or feel free to schedule a Virtual Visit to speak to a member of our staff from the comfort of your home.

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