TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—There had not been too much alarm regarding respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) locally, though the virus was certainly gaining notoriety around the country as it spread, with COVID-19 still fresh in everyone’s minds.

But that may change soon, as the Tompkins County Health Department has announced that RSV and common flu cases are on the rise in Tompkins County, though its announcement did not specify numbers.

According to TCHD, RSV is a “highly contagious, common respiratory virus that commonly causes mild cold-like symptoms in older children and adults,” though the illness can become more severe for infants and older adults. RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under 1 year old in America.

Mild RSV consists of similar symptoms as the common cold, flu and COVID-19, like running nose, coughing, sneezing, loss in appetite and fever.

“We want to do our part to limit the spread of the respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu so that we can protect our vulnerable community members,” said Dr. Frank Kruppa, the county’s Public Health Director. “Good hand hygiene, staying home when you are feeling ill, wearing a high-quality mask when necessary and getting vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, are steps we can all take to limit the reach of these viruses.”

Dr. William Klepack, TCHD Medical Director stated, “While there is not currently a vaccine available for RSV, we can and should prioritize getting the flu vaccine along with an updated COVID-19 booster. Everyone ages 5 and older can receive an updated bivalent booster dose. Reducing the impact of the flu and COVID-19 will enable our healthcare system to be available to provide the care needed for managing severe cases of RSV and other illnesses. We need to have local capacity available to care for newborns, infants, immunocompromised and elderly adults.”

The following is from TCHD’s announcement:

For mild cases of RSV, treatment measures for managing symptoms include:

  • Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Never give aspirin to children.) Contact your child’s healthcare provider prior to administering in order to receive guidance on correct dosage.
  • Drink enough fluids. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not good for children.

Call your healthcare provider if you or your child are having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms. Some people with RSV infection, especially older adults and infants younger than 6 months of age, may need to be hospitalized and receive oxygen if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated.

Researchers are working to develop a vaccine for RSV, but currently there is no vaccine available. RSV is spread through air-droplets, shared when people cough or sneeze, as well as being transmissible through contaminated surfaces. Prevention measures include good hand hygiene, frequent cleaning of hi-touch surfaces, avoiding close contact, and wearing high-quality masks as needed.

Parents of children at high risk for developing severe RSV disease should try to do the following:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands.
  • Limit the time your children spend in childcare centers or other potentially contagious settings. during periods of high RSV activity. This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season. Ask to review the daycare’s sick policy and cleaning procedures.
  • Keep sick family members home from work and school, and isolated from healthy family members.

Additionally, the flu (influenza) is also spreading in our community and vaccination against flu is essential at this time of the year. Flu vaccines are available at many locations throughout our community, including healthcare provider offices, pharmacies, and clinics. Everyone 6 months of age and over should be vaccinated every year against the flu. 

Vaccination is the best protection against getting the flu — it protects not only you but also limits the spread of flu to your loved ones and others. The flu can make even healthy people very sick and cause serious complications in children younger than 5, pregnant women, people 65 years and older, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com