Understanding RSV: What Healthcare Providers Need to Know in 2023

Respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, is a relatively common type of respiratory virus. It usually causes mild or cold-like symptoms, but it can be dangerous for some people such as infants or older adults. It becomes a greater threat now that it may occur simultaneously with influenza and COVID-19, even though it is often less severe than these two illnesses. 

With the triple threat of RSV, influenza, and COVID-19 this fall, a so-called triple-demic, flu season has become more straining on healthcare workers across the board. From overloaded hospitals and emergency rooms to home health nurses needing to take additional precautions when entering their patients’ homes, the effects can be felt everywhere. For all of these reasons, it’s important for nurses and healthcare professionals to protect themselves, their patients, and their loved ones. 

Get the Facts About RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most common causes of illness among children, and it’s the number one cause of hospitalization for infants. This well-known condition occurs in outbreaks, with most taking place during the fall and winter months. However, in some cases, RSV infections do occur outside that window. 

Adults who get RSV may not have symptoms, or they could develop a mild illness. In some cases, adults will develop severe symptoms, though, which may require medical intervention. Small children, such as infants, are at the greatest risk of falling ill and requiring hospitalization, but adults with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) could also be at a high risk of dealing with the complications of RSV. 

RSV Transmission

It is possible to spread RSV in several ways. Common modes of transmission include coughing and sneezing, getting virtual droplets in the eyes, nose, or mouth, and having direct contact with another person infected with RSV. It is also possible to get RSV from a surface that is contaminated with the virus, such as a doorknob.

To help cut down on the spread of RSV infections, regular cleaning with disinfectants is a must. Wearing a mask can help, as well, since masks prevent you from touching your face with unwashed hands. Additionally, if you know someone has RSV and you don’t need to see them, avoiding contact is an excellent way to stop the spread. 

RSV Symptoms

The symptoms of RSV vary. After exposure, symptoms usually occur within four to six days. In very young children and infants, symptoms may include irritability, trouble breathing, and lethargy (decreased activity). Additionally, general symptoms may include:

  • A runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • A fever
  • Wheezing
  • A decrease in appetite

RSV Hospital Admission Rates

RSV is a burden on today’s healthcare systems. Every year:

  • There are 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalizations involving children under the age of five.
  • Between 100 and 300 and 6,000 and 10,000 deaths occur among children under five and adults 65 or older, respectively.
  • Hospitalizations involving those 65 and older range from 60,000 to 160,000. 
  • Over 2.1 million children under five receive outpatient care. 

These hospitalization rates can be impacted by compounding factors such as the COVID-19 spread within a region or the uptick in influenza cases. Remember, it is possible to get all three of these illnesses at the same time, though it is rare. 

Preventative Options for RSV

In trials, vaccines for RSV have been found over 80% effective at preventing symptoms. And, since RSV is less likely to mutate than COVID-19, colds, or influenza, many doctors are hopeful that they will provide much-needed protection during RSV season. Vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration are now available for adults who are 60 years of age or older

Children, including infants, may benefit from Nirsevimab (Beyfortus), which is a monoclonal antibody product designed to provide at least five months of protection against RSV. This treatment is advised for infants under eight months old and those who were born during or who will be entering their first RSV season. It is also recommended for children approaching their second RSV season if they are between the ages of 8 and 19 months and are at an increased risk of RSV disease.

Another option for small children is Palivizumab (Synagis). This is also a monoclonal antibody product. Instead of getting this treatment once, it requires monthly intramuscular injections throughout RSV season. You can find updated guidance on using Palivizumab here. 

Patient Care for RSV

Most people are contagious for three to eight days and should quarantine during that period to prevent others from getting sick. For those with mild RSV infections, they should see their symptoms resolve within one to two weeks with no supportive care. They can take over-the-counter pain medications if it is safe for them to do so (small children may not be able to use these). 

For moderate or severe cases, hospitalization may be required. Severe cases are most common among those under six months old and those over 65. At the hospital, treatment can include receiving intravenous (IV) fluids for hydration, the use of a breathing machine or mechanical ventilation, and tube feeding. Suction may be used to remove mucus, and humidified oxygen may be used to boost oxygen levels within the body. For most people, including infants and children, RSV infections resolve within a few days with supportive treatment. 

How to Avoid RSV

You, your patients, and your loved ones can take steps to avoid RSV. Getting vaccinations or monoclonal antibody treatments at the appropriate times are two options. You can also:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water regularly and whenever you may have been in contact with someone with RSV
  • Avoid the use of shared cups, plates, or silverware
  • Avoid close contact with people who have RSV

Taking these precautions will help you minimize your risk of contracting RSV each year. 

Prepare for RSV with SHC

Respiratory syncytial virus can be a devastating illness, but with precautions such as taking vaccines or monoclonal antibody treatments, it is possible to reduce the risk of death or severe illness. At Supplemental Health Care, we are concerned for all of our nurses and healthcare providers as well as their patients and families. SHC is here to support you and together, we can help minimize the spread of RSV this season.

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