Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), COVID, and Flu Infections in the Winter
Winter is the time of year to spend inside with friends and family, and we’re all beginning to go back to more traditional holiday gatherings after COVID precautions have relaxed. Unfortunately, this year has a trio of illnesses that are causing major problems for infants, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised.
COVID is still a public health threat and is predicted to have seasonal spikes. These spikes can coincide with seasonal spikes in other illnesses, specifically the flu and RSV. And the flu season started earlier in the Fall of 2022 causing a surge in hospitalizations in the United States.
Another virus that’s making the rounds is respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, and infection can have a wide range of symptoms in different age groups. In most adults, RSV will present as a simple cold that’s relatively easy to get over after a week, but it’s more dangerous for children and seniors.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Outbreaks in 2022 So Far
RSV is already mounting a high number of cases in 2022. Children are the most affected by RSV and the hospitalization rate of infants and children being treated for RSV symptoms is already overwhelming hospitals and creating the need for overflow treatment areas in parking lot tents, gift shops, and other areas of the hospital.
Seniors are also seriously affected by RSV, like any other respiratory infection, and the hospitalization rate for the respiratory syncytial virus this season is already 10 times higher than usual.
RSV symptoms can range from mild cold symptoms to difficulty breathing that requires hospitalization. Many with RSV can treat themselves at home by drinking fluids, using saline nasal drops, and running a humidifier.
A humidifier helps with RSV symptoms and really any kind of respiratory issue. It might seem counterintuitive but it’s better to combat dry air and nasal passages with a humidifier. If you find yourself congested without relief, run a humidifier and keep a box of tissues nearby as it will help relieve drainage.
Flu and RSV season typically appear in colder, winter months and COVID is predicted to be the same, but cold air does not affect these illnesses. The cold air does not cause an RSV infection or the flu or COVID. The cold weather is a contributing factor to increased exposure to contagious diseases though.
The cold weather has us turning toward indoor gatherings where there is a higher risk of catching a contagious illness like a respiratory infection. There are longer exposure times when we’re all gathered together indoors spreading aerosol droplets and touching the same surfaces. There is also a decreased humidity level in the winter, which can make it easier for viruses to spread as well.
Airborne Contaminants and Respiratory Viral Infections
Airborne pollutants are invisible to the eye but wreak havoc on our respiratory systems. Inhaling pollutants, specifically aerosolized droplets and other airborne viral contaminants, are how respiratory viruses are spread indoors.
There has been a lot of focus on cleaning surfaces during flu season and to keep everyone safe during the COVID epidemic. While surface cleaning with antibacterial and anti-viral cleaning agents is important, it won’t help mitigate the aerosol droplets in our indoor air, which is the biggest threat.
Cleaning pollutants floating around in your indoor air does more to mitigate the spread of airborne viruses like COVID, RSV, and the flu than disinfecting surfaces does. The focus on “hygiene theater” that promotes deep cleaning methods is largely unnecessary for virus protection.
Routinely cleaning highly-used surfaces like doorknobs, countertops, and light switches is necessary. Cleaning the surface if someone coughs or sneezes on them is also necessary but hygiene theater is more harmful than not.
Detailed surface cleaning makes it seem like everything is clean and there’s little risk of contracting these viruses from surfaces, but that’s not how COVID, the flu, and RSV is typically spread. This false sense of security provides a placebo effect of thinking you’re mitigating the spread of these viruses indoors, but it’s not doing much since these viruses are transmitted through airborne droplets.
Since most of us are not wearing masks anymore, and it’s doubtful we would be willing to go back to wearing masks after such a long period of not having to, cleaning your indoor air is crucial. Masks act as a barrier for aerosol droplets released into the air from coughing or sneezing. Inhaling airborne particles from someone who is sick is the most common way of contracting an airborne respiratory virus.
Cleaning your indoor air with a real HEPA air purifier filters out these airborne particles before you can inhale them, therefore mitigating the spread of COVID, RSV, the flu, and other airborne viruses.
Air Pollution May Intensify RSV Symptoms
General air pollution can also affect respiratory viral infections alongside airborne contaminants from viruses. Air pollution exposure can intensify RSV and other respiratory infection symptoms. A higher level of particulate matter has been associated with more RSV infection hospitalizations in children.
Air pollution itself is harmful and can affect lung development and functionality. Air pollution is going to make any chronic or acute respiratory illness worse and aggravate symptoms. Air pollution can also negatively affect your immune system and ability to fight off respiratory infections.
Most illnesses including RSV and COVID-19 weaken your immune system making you even more susceptible to catching something else while sick. If you catch the flu and aren’t cautious, then you’re more likely to catch RSV or COVID if you interact with someone who is sick. If you already have a weakened immune system there’s always a higher risk of getting sick.
On top of the illnesses themselves weakening your immune system, air pollution can also weaken your immune system. Air pollution can suppress your regulatory T cells and lead to lower lung capacity. When T cell function is low it’s difficult for your immune system to fight off respiratory illnesses like asthma. Even worse news, ambient air pollution is at its worst in the winter.
Since air pollutants are at higher concentrations in the winter and contagious illnesses like the flu, RSV, and COVID are spiking in the winter, it’s important to create a safe environment where you can decrease your indoor air pollutant levels and mitigate the spread of illnesses.
How to Protect Yourself from RSV and Other Illnesses
There are several easy steps to follow to avoid getting sick and spreading viruses. These steps also help minimize the risk of reinfection and mitigate the severity of symptoms while sick.
Stay home when you’re sick. If you have common COVID, flu, or RSV symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and fever or chills it’s best to just stay home if possible. If you have to leave the house you should wear a mask to protect yourself and others.
Whether you’re out or at home it’s important to cover your coughs and sneezes especially when you’re around other people. These respiratory infections are spread through aerosol droplets released into the air when you sneeze, cough, or just breathe. You can minimize these airborne droplets spreading into the air by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when sneezing or coughing.
Cleaning is an important part of being healthy and keeping yourself from getting sick. Washing your hands frequently is essential whether you’re sick or not. Touching infected surfaces and touching your face or food can almost guarantee you’ll get sick.
Since there’s no way to tell if there are virus droplets on a surface it’s smart to regularly clean the surfaces in your home, and at work, especially if you or someone else is sick. While this cleaning method is effective you have to remember that airborne droplets are much more likely to spread these viruses.
Particulate matter carries these aerosol droplets and allows contagious viruses like the flu, COVID, and RSV to spread more easily. Cleaning your indoor air of particulate matter is the best way to combat the spread of RSV infection and other diseases through aerosol droplets indoors.
A HEPA air purifier is the only trusted air cleaning technology that can guarantee its efficiency in cleaning your indoor air. A real HEPA air purifier can capture allergens, airborne virus droplets, bacteria, dust, pollen, mold, and VOCs. Adding an activated carbon filter or a combination carbon/HEPA filter helps filter out smoke. Running a high-quality real HEPA air purifier in your home ensures your indoor air quality is healthy.
The flu, RSV, and COVID are all highly contagious. They’re spread easily from person to person by airborne droplets. There is no way to completely prevent the spread of a viral infection, but there are medications and vaccines to help mitigate symptoms. Visit a doctor to learn more about what medications make sense for respiratory viral infection, typically over the counter medications to treat fever symptoms, and get your COVID and flu vaccines.You can also track your local air pollution levels with Oransi’s interactive map that tracks local pollen count and air quality. This possible triple-demic of the flu, COVID, and RSV hitting in the winter of 2022 is scary, but thankfully, there are easy preventative measures that can help keep everyone safe.