RSV – It’s more than just a cold

As the temperatures turn colder, many of us are spending more time indoors. Colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses are more common in colder months. People are inside more often, allowing viruses to pass easily from one person to another. And the cold, dry air may help them spread. In addition, holidays are coming up when many of us will gather with family, friends, co-workers and loved ones.

You may have heard about RSV infections and associated emergency department visits and hospitalizations are on the rise, especially among infants and young children, with some U.S. regions nearing seasonal peak levels earlier than average.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. It’s the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children younger than age one in the United States.

Watch now as Dr. Calandra Green, Oakland County Health Officer, and Dr. Russell Faust, Oakland County Medical Director, discuss RSV and how you can protect yourself and others:

RSV usually circulates during fall, winter, and spring, but the timing and severity of RSV season can vary from year to year.

What’s most concerning is the possibility of RSV, flu and COVID-19 infections surging simultaneously. Currently there is no vaccine to prevent RSV infection. However, staying up-to-date on flu, COVID-19 and immunizations such as whooping cough (Tdap) can prevent severe illness from those viruses, help reduce respiratory complications in infected people and can relieve further strains on healthcare. Below are tips on how you can prevent RSV and many respiratory illnesses.

How can you prevent RSV?

  • Get vaccinated/boosted for influenza and COVID-19
  • Stay home if sick, even when testing negative for COVID-19
  • Wear a mask if sick and being around others is unavoidable
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils with others
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands

If possible, limit interactions with children at high risk for severe RSV if you have cold-like symptoms. This includes premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems. If this is not possible, carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above.

If you do have an infant at home, be sure to know the signs and symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants include:

  • Short, shallow, and rapid breathing
  • Struggling to breathe — chest muscles and skin pull inward with each breath
  • Cough
  • Poor feeding – infants that are not feeding will not stay hydrated. One way to tell? Baby is not wetting their diaper as usual.
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Irritability

Seek immediate medical attention if a child or anyone at risk of severe RSV infection has difficulty breathing, a high fever, or a blue color to the skin, particularly on the lips and in the nail beds.

For more information about RSV, go to the Health Division’s website at or by contacting Nurse on Call at 800-848-5533 or Nurse on Call is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For up-to-date public health information, follow @publichealthOC on Facebook and Twitter.

Stay connected with the Oakland County Health Division on Facebook and Twitter, and visit their website for additional health information and services.

Oakland County works to ensure access to quality affordable health care, including mental health services, to improve health outcomes for all residents as part of the Healthy Residents goal in our five-year road map. Follow the Oakland County Executive Office on Facebook and Twitter for updates and visit our dashboard to see the progress being made to ensure Oakland County is All Ways, Moving Forward.

Follow along with Oakland County on FacebookInstagramLinkedInPinterest, Twitter, and YouTube using #OaklandCounty, or visit our website for news and services year-round.

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