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Beyond the Flu and Bird Flu

Find out what's really ailing you this cold and flu season.

RSV continued...

As a result, prevention is the best way to protect against RSV. The flu is more likely to spread through coughing, but RSV, like the common cold, spreads mainly as large droplets via such surfaces as doorknobs, faucets, dish towels, and hand-to-hand contact.

"The way to reduce the risk is simply by washing hands as many times as you can and avoiding sharing things between kids," Pizzica says. "Clean off toys, clothes, and play areas," he adds. Also, "keep stuffed animals and shag rugs out of the kid's room because they can be a breeding ground for RSV and other viruses."

It also makes sense to keep your baby away from other sick individuals whenever possible, he says.


The metapneumovirus has a relative in bird world, says Walsh. "It's closely related to a syndrome of respiratory disease in turkeys. "It's really indistinguishable from RSV in all age groups," he says "It's new and people don't have the tools to study it. And it is hard to grow, which is why it was not identified for so long." Being able to grow the virus is a necessary step toward proper diagnosis.

"It was first characterized about four to five years ago and it tends to give more benign infections although in the old, young, and immunocompromised, it can be quite lethal," Schachter adds. Studies suggest that most children have been infected by human metapneumovirus by age 5. "By and large, it accounts for to up to 10%-20% of standard respiratory infections that we used to think of as a cold or mild flu."

However, "the overwhelming majority are never diagnosed properly and go untreated because treatment even for the flu is marginal to modest at best," Walsh says. "People have not worried too much about diagnosing the specific virus and [instead] say 'go home, eat chicken soup, drink fluids, and you'll get better,'" he says. And again, the best way to prevent this villain from entering your body is regular hand washing.


Remember the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) scare of 2002-2003? SARS is a coronavirus, also known as a type of virus that is typically associated with nasal congestion and sore throats. SARS actually causes symptoms similar to pneumonia and can be spread through contact with infected saliva or respiratory droplets, which are produced when someone with SARS coughs, sneezes, or speaks. SARS was first found in Asia, North America, and Europe in late 2002 and early 2003.

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