US Sees Big Spike in Respiratory Illnesses like Flu, RSV, COVID
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The CDC reports the number of Americans suffering from respiratory illness is high or very high in two-thirds of the United States. The spike in cases follows annual trends.
Doctors typically see an increase in patients with the common cold, influenza (flu), COVID-19, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) after the holidays, because of all the travel and in-person gatherings in close quarters. The high levels of these illnesses will likely continue for weeks.
"It's probably going to get worse before it gets better," Virginia Patient First Family and Geriatric Medicine Specialist Dr. Donald Curtis told CBN News.
The best way to determine which infection a patient has is through testing, because symptoms often overlap. They include sore throat, cough, fever, and body aches. Severe symptoms include difficulty breathing and chest pain.
"We think influenza has a more sudden onset after you contract the virus, within usually one to four or five days," said Dr. Curtis. "COVID-19 symptoms may start between two and 14 days after you contract the virus."
Doctors can prescribe oral medications to treat some viruses. However, it's important to take them as soon as possible after symptoms develop.
"With influenza, we have an antiviral medication called Tamiflu which is only helpful if started within 48 hours from the beginning of your illness," said Dr. Curtis. "For COVID-19 there is an oral medication called Paxlovid which can be started within five days of the onset of your symptoms."
Conversely, RSV is not treatable with any prescription anti-viral medication. RSV affects mostly older adults and young children. Severe cases are treated with oxygen, IV fluids, and mechanical ventilation.
"RSV is a virus that many of us are familiar with, unfortunately, that can really hit the little kids hard. The little ones, the infants. Hospitalizations happen every single year from RSV," Virginia Pediatrician Dr. Leah Rowland, who practices at Pediatric Specialists told CBN News.
Doctors say caregivers should seek medical attention for a child who isn't drinking enough fluids, has bluish lips or fingernails, or exhibits short, rapid breathing.
"You might see little ones, where you can see the outlines of their ribs. We call those retractions. You can see their muscles working extra hard to help them breathe," said Dr. Rowland.
Fortunately, most RSV cases are mild and can be treated at home. Pediatricians recommend giving children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen for comfort.
"In general, the cough medicines we don't recommend across the board. They have other components in them that aren't necessarily useful or helpful for kids," said Dr. Rowland, while recommending a more natural cough suppressant to children over the age of one. "One that is useful is over the counter honey for a year or more, sometimes that can soothe the throat and give them a little relief."
Dr. Rowland said a warm shower or using a humidifier can help relieve congestion for older children and recommends carefully using a suction tool to help relieve congestion in infants.
Doctors say regardless of age or ailment, we can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses by washing our hands often, coughing or sneezing into our arm, rather than into the air or into our hands, and staying home when sick.
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