Differentiating Between Seasonal Illnesses Part 2: RSV and the Common Cold

Jan 27, 2023 | COVID, Illness & Infections

News of a new RSV surge started making headlines in mid-October of 2022, with hospitals and pediatric wings reaching capacity. Talk of a “tripledemic” soon hit the airwaves, as heavy hitters COVID-19 and influenza were joined by common seasonal illnesses that had been relatively dormant due to pandemic precautions like masking.

But now, RSV and the common cold are back – in a big way.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is a highly contagious infection that is particularly dangerous in infants and older individuals. For everyone else, symptoms are typically mild and short-lived.

Most children are infected with RSV before they are 2 years old. Babies with the virus may experience high temperatures. The virus results in significant inflammation and prompts excess mucus in the nose and lungs – making it challenging for children and babies to breathe due to their narrower airways. This occasionally makes emergency treatment and/or hospitalization necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than one.

Just like the symptoms of COVID and flu tend to overlap, RSV and the common cold at first would appear indistinguishable from one another, with cough and a runny nose being hallmarks. The biggest difference is that RSV typically results in a much higher amount of mucus.

Whereas RSV is an upper respiratory virus, bronchiolitis, which sometimes results from the original infection, affects the lower respiratory tract or the lung’s smaller breathing tubes. Symptoms of bronchiolitis include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Nostril flaring
  • Head bobbing
  • Grunting when breathing
  • Sucking in of the belly, and tugging between ribs and the lower neck
  • Wheezing

Unfortunately, there is no vaccination and/or cure for RSV, though OTC medications can help to alleviate symptoms and discomfort for those infected.

Additionally, parents and families can help to reduce risk and spread by doing the following:

  • Washing hands regularly
  • Disinfecting shared surfaces (doorknobs, tabletops, sinks, etc.)
  • Avoiding close contact with those who are ill

The CDC also urges everyone to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu, to reduce the risk of spread and protect more vulnerable individuals from overlapping infections.

The team at Quality First Urgent Care understands that upper and lower respiratory symptoms can make life miserable while our bodies fight off infection, and that they are particularly concerning in the wake of a pandemic. Our trained staff can help you pinpoint a diagnosis, rule out a bacterial infection, and provide a course of treatment that will have you back on your feet in no time.

If you are experiencing respiratory symptoms, schedule an appointment today.