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CDC warning about virus spreading in the South with similar COVID-19 symptoms

Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The CDC is warning about a virus increasingly spreading in the South that has symptoms similar to COVID-19.

It’s called respiratory syncytial virus, and it’s nothing new to healthcare providers.

“Each year in the United States, RSV leads to on average approximately 58,000 hospitalizations with 100-500 deaths among children younger than 5 years old and 177,000 hospitalizations with 14,000 deaths among adults aged 65 years or older,” the CDC reported.

But the agency said cases plummeted last year.

“To be honest, we’ve been out of practice thinking about viruses because with all the COVID precautions, it’s kept the viruses at a low level which has been delightful,” Dr. Valerie Scott said. She is a family doctor with Roper St Francis Family Partners in Mt. Pleasant.

“Everyone was staying home, wearing their masks, washing their hands. Now we’re out and about without our masks. The infants have never been wearing masks, so they’re wide open to get viruses from the community at large,” Scott said.

Adults with RSV usually feel like they have a cold. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, sneezing, and the hallmark sign of wheezing, Scott said.

“But in babies and especially premature babies, it can be a life-threatening infection,” Scott said. “So if you have a small infant, I would be mindful about letting them around someone with a cold because that could be the RSV virus.”

In its health alert June 10th, the CDC said if patients have acute respiratory illness with a negative COVID test, physicians should consider then testing them for RSV.

SC DHEC tells us RSV is on the radar. Doctors don’t have to report individual RSV cases to the state unless they suspect a cluster or an outbreak, so the agency doesn’t have exact numbers of cases. They did tell us they’ve gotten reports from some hospitals noticing a recent increase in cases.

Dr. Scott said like with other virus, antibiotics won’t work for RSV. Patients can only treat the symptoms.

Inhalers, for example, might relieve bronchial spasms.

However, Dr. Scott said there is a monoclonal antibody shot that can be given to prevent infection, specifically for premature babies or those born with chronic lung disease. It’s given during high-RSV season, she said, and the baby would typically get 5 shots the first year.

“We’ve had that shot since 1998...which is interesting because now we’re using monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID,” Scott said.

So how can you prevent the spread?

The advice should be habit for all of us after the last year: Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And stay at home if you’re sick.

For more information about preventing RSV, visit the CDC’s website.

The site said, “Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines, but none are available yet. "

“You must remember viruses are pretty powerful. We realized that as COVID brought us to our knees, but there are others that have been affecting us for years,” Scott said.

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