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Your Young Child Is Sick: Is it COVID or RSV?

HealthDay News
Updated: Aug 29th 2021

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SUNDAY, Aug. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A common bug called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) circulating among American kids during what's normally its off-season may cause concern if parents don't know how to tell it apart from COVID-19, experts say.

Getting RSV during the summer is unusual, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued an alert about a rise in RSV cases in Southern states.

"We're seeing more winter-like viruses this summer than we've ever seen," said Dr. Steven Abelowitz, medical director of Coastal Kids, a pediatric group in Orange County, Calif. "We are speculating that over the last few months, with society opening up after lockdowns, viruses are surging up a bit because kids are now exposed more than they were prior."

RSV affects the nose, throat and lungs. In most people, it causes cough, runny nose and sometimes a fever. Symptoms usually last seven to 10 days, but some kids develop a cough that takes up to six weeks to clear.

RSV can also cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis (an inflammation of small airways in the lungs) in babies, and people older than 50 with heart or lung disease are at risk of complications from RSV.

The virus is highly contagious. If your child gets it, keep him or her away from anyone who is at high risk of serious illness from the virus, experts from the Children's Hospital Los Angeles advised.

If your child has RSV symptoms, the first thing to do is to rule out COVID-19 by getting your child tested.

"You don't want to be responsible for more community spread," said Dr. Deborah Liu, associate director of emergency medicine at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

She recommends getting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which usually provides results in about 24 hours.

"It is difficult to distinguish between COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses," Liu said. "It's hard enough for health care providers. Getting tested to determine if it's COVID-19 or not is something we should advocate for."

Most kids can recover from RSV at home. There is no medicine to treat the virus, but there are several ways to ease symptoms.

For a stuffy nose, use a saline spray and a bulb to suction out the mucus. A humidifier may help soothe respiratory passages. If your older child is coughing a lot, prop his or her head with a pillow.

"For most viruses, the management is the same: Stay home, stay well-hydrated, get lots of sleep and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever," Liu said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on RSV.

SOURCE: Children's Hospital Los Angeles, news release, Aug. 24, 2021