The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is spreading quickly, particularly among children. It is not a new virus, but communities across the country are seeing extraordinarily early surges. The virus typically gains momentum in January, but this year physicians are reporting a slew of early infections and hospitalizations. Physicians say this is because we missed two previous viral seasons from COVID masking and limited contact with others. Though it may look like a cold, RSV can cause more severe breathing problems and even lead to pneumonia.
The virus that causes RSV is highly contagious and is easily spread by touching contaminated surfaces. This is why children are so prone to getting RSV in schools, daycare centers, and after-school care programs. The virus enters the body through the nose or mouth when a person breathes in respiratory droplets from an infected person. Another way it is transmitted is when a person touches a surface that is contaminated and then touches their eyes. The virus is very contagious during the first week of being sick, but it can spread up to a month after symptoms are gone.
When should you or a child see a doctor for RSV?
The virus starts with mild cold-like symptoms, including congestion and a cough. Antibiotics do not work for RSV and there are natural approaches to RSV that naturopathic doctors use for mild symptoms. A naturopathic doctor may prescribe herbs and supplements to reduce the viral reaction and support the immune system. Another objective is to reduce overall mucus production and thin it out with saline. Infants prefer to breathe through their noses, so careful suctioning may help.
For some adults and children, RSV can progress into a more serious lung infection. These symptoms can be quick breathing, gasping for breath, flaring of the nostrils, and caving in of the chest muscles when breathing. If you see any of these more severe RSV symptoms, it is important to see a doctor right away.
Anyone can get the virus as everyone is likely exposed to RSV a couple of times per year. However, there are specific risks for complications, including:
1. Newborns and infants under six months
2. Premature babies with poor lung development
3. People with heart or lung disease
4. Adults and children with weakened immune systems
5. Organ transplant or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy
How to avoid getting RSV?
Many of the same avoidance guidelines practiced for COVID apply to RSV, too.
- Wear a mask when out in public
- Avoid large groups
- Use hand sanitizers
- Do not touch surfaces, followed by your eyes, nose, or mouth
- Keep your body healthy and your immune system strong (see tips on avoiding a respiratory virus from a naturopathic doctor)
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is full of spices, fruits, and vegetables with antioxidants
- Stay active with exercise to support a healthy immune system. Movement improves your physical and mental health.
- Speak with your doctor about herbs and dietary supplements to support a healthy immune system during the winter months
- As with what we have learned about COVID-19 complications, commit to getting preexisting conditions under control.
- Most lifestyle conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease risk, and other chronic diseases are preventable and treatable with diet, lifestyle, and integrative approaches that naturopathic physicians are trained to manage.
How can you tell if you have a cold, allergies, or a respiratory virus?
For more information on how to find a naturopathic doctor (ND), see INM’s Find an ND Directory. Also, to find an ND who specializes in pediatrics, please visit our partners at the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.