RSV season arrives early in Idaho; take action to protect yourself and your family

November 8, 2022
By Luis Vela, Division of Public Health

RSV season has been officially declared in Idaho with virus activity increasing over the past two weeks across the state. There is no vaccine to protect against infection with RSV, but you can take action to help prevent spread. Many of the actions we recommended to prevent COVID-19 and seasonal influenza (the flu) can also help prevent RSV and are increasingly important, especially as the weather turns cold and we spend more time inside together.

RSV, an acronym for respiratory syncytial virus, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover without medical care after a week or two. Nearly all children in the U.S. have been infected with RSV by the age of 2. Although RSV is common, young children and older adults can develop serious illness requiring hospitalization.

The spread of RSV occurs through contact with respiratory droplets, often from a cough or sneeze of someone with RSV, or through direct contact by touching your face with unwashed hands after touching surfaces that have the virus on them. RSV can persist on surfaces for several hours and on hands for 30 minutes or more. People can spread the virus to others for three to eight days after showing signs of illness, but RSV can be spread even a few days before symptoms appear. Young infants and people who are immunocompromised can be contagious for up to four weeks.

In most healthy infants, RSV infection causes a mild upper respiratory tract illness with nasal congestion, a runny nose, cough, and low-grade fever. Infants less than 6 months old, those born prematurely (less than 34 weeks gestational age), and children 6 months to 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart disease, neuromuscular disorders, or immunocompromising conditions or therapies could be at risk of severe illness from RSV. In very young infants (particularly those born prematurely), the only signs and symptoms of infection may be lethargy, irritability, poor feeding, or even short periods when they stop breathing (apnea).

Adults infected with RSV may not have symptoms or develop mild symptoms such as runny nose, sore through, cough, headache, feeling tired or weak, and fever. Adults at high risk for severe illness, such as developing pneumonia, include those who are 65 years and older, have chronic lung or heart disease, or are immunocompromised.

It is important to protect people in high-risk groups from exposure to RSV. Parents, older adults, and caregivers should know the symptoms of RSV and who might be at risk for severe disease. People who have a higher risk of severe illness should avoid contact with sick people or settings, such as childcare centers, where RSV can easily spread. To prevent the spread of RSV, take some simple precautions:

  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Clean potentially contaminated surfaces
  • Avoid sharing personal items like cups and utensils
  • Avoid contact with those who are high risk of severe RSV, and
  • Stay home and keep children home when sick.

Although there is no licensed vaccine for RSV, some are in clinical trials and could be available in the future. Being knowledgeable about RSV and how to avoid exposure are keys to halting the spread of the virus and protecting vulnerable people. Contact a healthcare provider if you think you or someone in your family might have RSV.

Luis Vela, MPH is an Epidemiologist within the Department of Health and Welfare, Bureau of Communicable Disease, Epidemiology Section

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.