As reports of circulating respiratory pathogens have entered the news and media outlets, everyone is on high alert. One pathogen that is getting attention is respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, also known as RSV. RSV is recognized as one of the most common causes of childhood illness. With a recent increase in cases, many hospitals, especially pediatric units, are expressing concern as they near capacity.1 The good news is there are ways to slow the spread of illness causing germs and protect the health and safety of our communities. Continue reading to find out more about RSV and learn about strategies and tools to help.
History and Epidemiology
RSV was discovered in 1956 in a group of chimpanzees and wasn’t recognized as a pathogen primarily infecting humans until later.2 As one of the most widely recognized causes of seasonal illness, RSV is responsible for millions of respiratory infections in the U.S. each year.3
RSV typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms including runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. These symptoms usually begin 4-6 days after infection and occur in stages rather than all at once.4 Most people fully recover in 1-2 weeks. RSV infections can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. In the U.S., RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than one and a significant cause of respiratory illness in older adults.5 Annually, RSV infections in the U.S. are attributed to 58,000 hospitalizations among children younger than five years old and 177,000 hospitalizations among adults aged 65 years or older.3
RSV usually circulates in the U.S. during fall, winter, and spring months, but the timing and severity of RSV has been unpredictable over the past few years. Due to pandemic restrictions, RSV nearly disappeared during the 2020–2021 respiratory season only to surge out-of-season during the summer of 2021. This year, RSV case numbers increased earlier than expected. It is unclear when, or if, the predictable seasonal spreading of RSV will return.3
Preventing the Spread
RSV is spread by droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or by surfaces if someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their face before washing their hands. RSV is known to survive for many hours on hard surfaces and objects, which is a risk of transmission and exposure. Survival on soft surfaces like tissues and hands is more limited.6
Currently, no RSV vaccine is available. In the absence of a vaccine, the CDC recommends four things to help stop the spread of RSV this respiratory season:7
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Use your elbow or a tissue and not your hands, which are more likely to spread virus through touch.
- Wash hands. Carefully and frequently wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Stay home when ill. Encourage those who are sick to stay home and limit contact with others.
- Clean and disinfect. Ensure frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch and contaminated surfaces and objects with an EPA-registered disinfectant.
Tools to help keep spaces safe
In addition to personal care, there is a shared responsibility in maintaining the health and safety of the environments where learning, work, and play occur. With RSV and respiratory illness on the rise, many excellent tools and resources are available to assist facilities in helping keep spaces clean and disinfected. For example, disinfecting wipes are easy-to-use and an excellent tool to use throughout the day in shared spaces and high traffic areas. The CloroxPro RSV Pathogen Education Sheet provides additional information about RSV and products that are EPA registered to be effective against this virus. To learn about other seasonal respiratory pathogens, and see a side-by-side comparison, take a look at the CloroxPro Respiratory Pathogens resource.
1. Romo V. Children’s hospitals grapple with a nationwide surge in RSV infections [Internet]. NPR. NPR; 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/2022/10/24/1130764314/childrens-hospitals-rsv-surge
2. Junge S, Nokes DJ, Simões EAF, Weber MW. Respiratory Syncytial Virus [Internet]. International Encyclopedia of Public Health. Academic Press; 2008 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123739605006213
3. CDC. RSV Trends and Surveillance [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/research/us-surveillance.html
4. CDC. RSV Symptoms. [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/symptoms.html
5. CDC. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/index.html
6. CDC. RSV Transmission. [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/transmission.html
7. CDC. RSV Prevention. [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/prevention.html