Respiratory syncytial virus season has arrived, here's what you need to know

Cases of RSV declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as pre-pandemic behaviors become the norm again, cases of RSV are returning to normal.

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PERHAM – Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has arrived in Perham. But, it arrives every year, and most cases don’t result in hospitalization, explained Perham Health pediatrician Kathryn Obregon.

The doctor, who’s been in the field more than 30 years, said the spread of RSV (and the flu) declined while people wore face masks. As pre-pandemic behaviors become the norm again, cases of RSV are returning to normal. Children, adults and senior citizens can contract RSV.

Perham Health pediatrician Kathryn Obregon explained most who contract RSV can recover at home.
Contributed / Perham Health

According to the Mayo Clinic, “RSV causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract” and is “so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2.”

For most, the symptoms appear to be that of a common cold and the virus spreads in the same manner, Obregon said. RSV can be transmitted through a cough, sneeze or touching a surface.

The CDC reported the virus can live several hours on hard surfaces, such as cribs and counters, and for a shorter duration on soft surfaces, such as hands.


Once infected with RSV, Obregon said a sore throat and fever are not usually a common ailment, and may mean a secondary infection has occurred. The common component of those who contract RSV is a deep cough that is “not super productive.”

She explained that a productive cough can break loose material in the lungs.

She added that babies and toddlers with RSV are often smiling, while they cough and wheeze, whereas those with influenza rarely smile.

“RSV is an outpatient disease,” Obregon said.

The CDC reported, annually in the U.S., there are about 2.1 million outpatient visits by kids younger than five who have RSV.

Annually, there are between 58,000 and 80,000 hospitalizations due to RSV in children younger than five and between 100 and 300 deaths.

There are also between 60,000 and 120,000 hospitalizations due to RSV among adults 65 and older, with between 6,000 and 10,000 deaths.

Obregon explained that severe cases are typically seen in premature infants, those with heart and lung disease, or the immunocompromised. She noted children exposed to tobacco smoke or wood stove smoke or who were fed formula versus breast milk are also considered at higher risk.


If a person of any age experiences difficulty breathing, a trip to the hospital may be warranted. If a baby’s skin turns blue (especially around the lips and fingernails) or there are signs of dehydration, such as a decrease in wet diapers, a trip to the emergency room should be considered.

In the rare cases when hospitalization is required due to RSV, patients typically receive oxygen and fluids. Obregon said both are administered in the hospital and cannot be done with outpatient care. She added that those who are admitted to the hospital typically spend between two and four days there.

There is also a drug that is typically used for kids with asthma that may help, Obregon said, noting the data regarding the effectiveness of the drug is in its infancy stages.

Obregon noted there are some measures one can take to reduce the spread of RSV. The typical battle of keeping surfaces sanitized, washing hands and staying home when sick are prescribed. She suggested that adults that work with children wear a mask if sniffles or other cold and flu symptoms appear, if staying home is not an option.

Those with RSV may be contagious between three and eight days.

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