What You Should Know About RSV: Symptoms, Prevention, Care

  • Published
  • By TRICARE Communications

You may have heard of a virus called respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV. RSV is a seasonal illness of special concern to children under age two, adults over age 65, and people of all ages who have a weakened immune system. Its symptoms closely resemble a cold or annual flu, so it’s important to know the signs of RSV. RSV symptoms can change quickly and put patients at risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and even death.
“RSV is a common virus that can affect anyone of any age, and its symptoms are generally mild and manageable,” said Col. Patrick Kennedy, chief of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division at the Defense Health Agency. “However, certain populations such as infants, especially premature infants or babies who are 6 months or younger, are at higher risk of serious disease. TRICARE encourages you to be familiar with the signs of RSV and see your health care provider if you think you or a family member has RSV.”
Recognizing RSV symptoms
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV symptoms can appear in stages—not all at once—about four to six days after infection. Some signals that you may have RSV usually include:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

Signs of RSV in very young infants may be irritability, decreased activity, having a hard time breathing, and breathing apnea (pauses between breaths). The most serious symptom of RSV is difficulty breathing. If your child’s breathing is rapid, as if they’re trying to “catch their breath,” or if you can see their ribs when they breathe, seek medical care immediately.
Preventing RSV
Most children will have had RSV before age 2, but anyone can catch RSV again. RSV is highly contagious and there’s currently no vaccine for the virus. Take extra care to keep infants or young children healthy, especially those who:

  • Were born prematurely
  • Have chronic lung or heart disease
  • Have a weakened immune system

The CDC suggests these proactive steps to protect others and to avoid getting sick with RSV:

  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have cold-like symptoms.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Always cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue or upper shirt sleeve.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, toys, and mobile devices.
  • Stay at home if you feel sick.

TRICARE encourages you to contact your health care provider if you think you or a loved one has RSV. If you need to locate a provider, visit TRICARE’s Find a Doctor page. Remember urgent care and emergency care are TRICARE covered services. To learn more about RSV, visit the CDC website.
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