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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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RSV Season: It's Here

Tens of Thousands of U.S. Kids Hospitalized Each Year With RSV Infection
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 15, 2005 -- A virus, called RSV, is spreading through the southern U.S. and will send thousands of kids to the hospital.

There's no vaccine. So why aren't there scary headlines? Maybe because it happens every year.

The virus is RSV -- respiratory syncytial virus. Every year it puts 51,000 to 82,000 Americans in the hospital. Most of them are young children, although the virus ravages the elderly as well.

Last year, RSV season started in the South in late October. By mid-November it had spread to the Northeast and West, and to the Midwest in late December. RSV season peaked in December in the South and Northeast, in January in the West, and in February in the Midwest.

And now it's back. The CDC reports that widespread RSV infections began in the South in mid-October. Infection rates climbed through November. And preliminary data suggest that cases are rising toward the "widespread" level in the Northeast. The data appears in the Dec. 16 issue of the CDC's MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

RSV Symptoms

If you're old enough to read this, you've almost certainly had more than one RSV infection. Most of us catch it for the first time before we're 2 years old.

You catch it by coming into contact with what the CDC delicately refers to as the "respiratory secretions" of an infected person. Usually this means close contact -- for example, sharing a drinking cup -- with an infected person. You probably can also get an RSV infection by touching a virus-contaminated surface and then rubbing your eye, scratching your nose, or touching your mouth.

RSV illness begins with a fever, a runny nose, a cough, and, sometimes, wheezing. Most adults experience RSV infection as a bad cold.

It's a different story for children. Among kids who catch RSV for the first time, 25% to 40% come down with symptoms of a severe lung infection: pneumonia or bronchiolitis (inflammation in the small air passageways of the lung). As many as two in 100 kids infected for the first time are hospitalized.

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