CDC warns of respiratory illness spreading across the South

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 7:11 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health advisory for increased levels of interseasonal respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in the Southern United States. The respiratory illness spreads through droplets when people cough or sneeze and can cause severe disease or infection for youth and older adults.

“RSV is a common cold virus,” said pediatrician Dr. Nola Ernest with the Enterprise Pediatric Clinic. “And I think that is the most important thing that parents need to know because it is not always dangerous.”

“While it can be scary to hear that your child has RSV, the vast majority of the time children are going to do well,” Ernest said.

In the U.S., the CDC reports 177,000 RSV-related hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths for elderly over 65. Fifty-eight thousand hospitalizations are for kids younger than 5 years old, and 100-500 of children within that age range do not survive.

“Most of the time, the illness is going to resolve on its own, the same way a common cold would,” the doctor added.

The warning comes on the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic. RSV rates were low in May 2020 due to social distancing and mask-wearing; However, that changed in March as public health measures loosened.

“We had fewer people working, we had more people at home,” Deputy State Health Officer Karen Landers said. “I would expect that we would’ve seen less respiratory droplet virus.”

The CDC has asked clinicians and caregivers to test more individuals for RSV - patients with acute respiratory illness who are negative for SARS-CoV-2, the virus at the root of COVID-19.

“We have to be more concerned about young children and infants, especially children under a year of age, as having more severe respiratory illness,” Landers said.

Symptoms include decreased appetite, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, headache, fatigue, sneezing, fever and wheezing. There is no treatment for RSV, but doctors can help treat the associated symptoms.

“I think an overarching message is just be aware of this,” Landers said. “Obviously, if you’re a parent or guardian please check with you doctor,” Landers said about children experiencing symptoms.

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