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RSV uptick starts earlier than usual. Vaccines can help prevent severe cases

Beautiful young mom is holding her cute baby while doctor is listening to baby's lungs.
GeorgeRudy/Getty Images/iStockphoto
A respiratory illness that can be more severe for infants, young children and older adults is on the rise in Florida.

Florida is seeing an increase of RSV positivity rates. For most, the virus is mild — but experts say the virus can be more severe for infants, young children and older adults.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory warning for a respiratory illness that can cause severe illness in infants, young children and older adults.

The respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that can be spread when a infected person coughs or sneezes in close contact with someone else or a person touches a contaminated surface.

"In most people, (the virus is) really mild," said Jill Roberts, an associate professor who specializes in molecular epidemiology and emerging diseases at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

"So when you think about the common cold that we all get a couple of times a year, we generally tend to have the runny nose, maybe some cough, a little bit of wheezing, sometimes you can get a fever with it, but that's about it."

But Florida Department of Health records show an increase in RSV hospitalizations and emergency room visits during the week of Aug. 27.

"That's an indication that there are severe cases that are getting detected," Roberts said.

The CDC estimates each year between 100 and 300 deaths occur in children younger than 5 and 6,000 to 10,000 deaths in ages 65 and over.

Roberts said the virus showed up a little sooner than expected this year because of COVID-19.

"What normally happens is we generally tend to see the virus in the fall, and it actually peaks in winter," she said.

Despite being early, Roberts said it looks like the virus is beginning to settle into its normal pattern.

She added that a recent uptick of COVID-19 cases was another reason the health advisory was important.

"Since you have two cold viruses circulating, you want to make sure people are checking," Roberts said. "The two viruses would be treated differently (and) you would want to take a different course of action depending on which one which you had."

Last month, two new vaccines became available for ages 60 and over to protect against RSV, Arexvy and Abrysvo.

A treatment called nirsevimab will be available for ages 19 months and under in October, according to the CDC.

"Now I know somebody will say, 'Well, I need to get sick, and I need to get antibodies,'" Roberts said. "So, you could get vaccinated and get the antibodies without running the risk of also dying."

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.
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