Beyond the Flu and Bird Flu
Find out what's really ailing you this cold and flu season.
Like the flu, RSV is basically a respiratory illness. Its effects can range
from a few sniffles to life-threatening pneumonia. Someone with the flu is more
likely to have a fever and body aches, and someone with RSV is more likely to
have a runny nose, a cough that produces mucus, and wheeze. It's especially
virulent among infants. "Babies with RSV get wheezy, turn blue, and may go
on ventilators," Walsh says. "It's a scary illness and it's really
common." By contrast, he says when you are sick with the flu you will
experience more fever symptoms than if you are sick with RSV. "In the very
young and the very old, RSV can be quite virulent," says Neil Schachter,
MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City, and
the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu. "It is
most dangerous in first six months of life because the infants can develop
bronchiolitis," an infection of the smallest branches of the respiratory
system, he says.
That's why early identification of RSV in infants is key, adds Albert L.
Pizzica, DO, a neonatologist in Philadelphia and president of the National
Perinatal Association, now based in Harrisburg, Pa. "You have to recognize
a worsening cold because especially in preemies, we don't have a margin or
error," he says. "It's a very short line between a mild cold and flu
and being put on a breathing machine." Premature infants are at high risk
of developing RSV, yet a new survey conducted by USA/DIRECT shows that parents
of preemies know precious little about this bug. In fact, 90% of parents whose
babies have been hospitalized with RSV say that they need better information
about RSV prevention.
There is no widely used treatment for RSV, but ribavirin, an antiviral, can
be used for the sickest of the sick. "It's controversial whether ribavirin
helps or not and whether it can actually do some damage is not entirely
clear," Schachter says.
Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine for RSV yet, Walsh says, although that's
not from lack of trying. Unfortunately, attempts to develop a vaccine have met
with varying degrees of failure.