Respiratory infections rising; here’s what to do

Nov 30th, 2022 | By | Category: Health & Fitness

By Nigel Turner

COVID-19 is still circulating in Pierce County. Flu season has begun. And the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an  increase in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV).

Everyone should take precautions this respiratory season. But some groups are especially at risk for severe illness:

  • Children under 5 years old (especially under 2).
  • Adults 65 or older.
  • Those who are pregnant.
  • Anyone with a health condition like asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

RSV infects nearly all children by the time they turn 2. It usually causes only mild cold-like symptoms in older children and adults, but can cause severe illness in infants, especially premature babies, those with certain heart or lung diseases, and older adults (see related story). It’s the most common cause of severe lung infections in children younger than 1 in the U.S. About 58,000 under 5 are hospitalized with RSV each year. CDC says 1 to 2 percent of children under 6 months who are infected with RSV may need to be hospitalized.

RSV can spread when someone who has RSV coughs or sneezes, virus droplets from a cough or sneeze land in eyes, nose, or mouth, through direct contact like kissing the face of a child with RSV, and touching a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touching one’s face before washing.

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days and may become contagious a day or two before they start showing signs of illness.

You can help limit the spread of RSV just like you’ve done for COVID-19 the past few years and the flu before that. Especially if you are around young children or older adults, take these steps:

  • Stay home if you’re sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Consider wearing a mask around those most at risk.
  • Limit the time you spend in childcare centers or other potentially contagious settings.

Now is also the time to get an updated COVID-19 booster. Bivalent Pfizer and Moderna boosters protect against both the original COVID-19 strain and omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. They provide the best protection against severe illness.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get an updated booster two months after their last booster dose or primary series of vaccines. There are also Novavax boosters for people 18 and older who can’t or don’t want to get an mRNA vaccine. Find your dose at


Nigel Turner, part of the staff at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, wrote this article for its Reliable Sources blog.


RSV, enemy virus of children, can be worse for older adults

Covering coughs and sneezes is one of the main ways people can help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, better-known as RSV, is a common and serious respiratory virus among infants and toddlers and has reached what health authorities recently called unprecedented levels. It also can affect older adults more frequently and just as seriously, and often result in death.

“While symptoms are usually mild and cold-like,” RSV can cause the death of more than 14,000 older adults per year compared to an estimated 500 deaths annually for children younger than 5 years old, said says Lindsay Clarke, a senior vice president of the Alliance for Aging Research, a national non-profit organization that wants to raise awareness of the illness.

Spread through coughs, sneezes, and touching the eyes, nose, or mouth after being in contact with a contaminated surface, RSV symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses and include cough, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, low-grade fever, and headaches. As their bodies age, people have a higher risk of serious complications, including difficulty breathing, lung infection, and congestive heart failure.

Staying up to date on adult immunizations is one way to guard against a mild or serious case of RSV. Clarke encouraged people to talk to their healthcare provider or go online at to learn more about preventive steps.

The national Centers for Disease Control has reported that RSV cases have surged partly because of reduced practice of public health measures implemented during the height of the COVID pandemic, such as masking and social distancing.