“Everyone is Sick”…But What is it and Does it Matter?

RSV has been in the news lately because of rising incidence, likely secondary to lack of exposure over the past couple of years.

One of the only benefits of a shut down is the lack of exposure to germs, and it seems we are paying the price now. I keep hearing the phrase, “Everyone is sick!” and while this may be an exaggeration, it certainly does feel like our communities are getting hit with lots at once. RSV, flu, Covid-19, stomach bugs, the common cold … what is it, and does the diagnosis really matter?

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) has been around forever. For most people, it causes self-limited upper respiratory symptoms that go away in a few days to a week and almost everyone is exposed to it by the age of two. For infants and older adults, RSV can result in more serious infections of the airways and lungs. Premature and young infants, babies and adults with lung disease and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk. For the majority of cases, symptomatic treatment and time will be enough, but when severe, supportive care in the hospital may be necessary. According to the CDC, RSV results in 58,000 hospitalizations and 100 to 300 deaths among children under 5 each year. In those 65 and older, about 177,000 are infected with RSV, resulting in 14,000 deaths annually.

RSV has been in the news lately because of rising incidence, likely secondary to lack of exposure over the past couple of years.

By now you are familiar with the symptoms of Covid-19, or you at least get that it can present with almost anything from runny nose to fever to cough to loss of taste to stomach issues. The biggest differentiator is the change in your taste buds. If you experience this, assume Covid. The flu, as you likely already also know, usually presents with fever and body aches in addition to the respiratory symptoms of cough and congestion and can also affect the GI system, causing lack of appetite, nausea and diarrhea. Stomach bugs are self explanatory, and the common cold is just really annoying. You can be tested for RSV, Covid and the flu, and if it will ease your mind to know, go for it. In most cases though, it is wise to simply rest, take fever reducers, drink plenty of fluids and treat your symptoms as they arise with over the counter decongestants, cough suppressants and stomach medicine. The critical thing is to stay away from other people, especially those who are at higher risk, to wash your hands often and to clean surfaces after you touch them. Unless you live alone, stopping the spread is almost impossible, but we can try. Stay home if you don’t feel well. This has always been good advice, but since 2020, it seems people are actually starting to believe it.

What to do if you are very sick? Call your doctor! If your symptoms are severe, then it IS useful to know what germ is to blame. There are treatments available to help mitigate symptoms and there is guidance and help for close contacts. Severe symptoms include shortness of breath, high fevers that don’t respond to medication, protracted vomiting or diarrhea and anything else that takes you from “I feel lousy” to the “I’m really worried.”

Everyone may be sick, but that does not mean we have to shut down our lives or the lives of our kids. Exposure to germs is important too, as we can now attest. Focus on strategies that boost immune systems like healthy diets, increasing hydration, cutting down on sugar, exercise and spending time outdoors. Getting sick stinks, but as long as symptoms are mild, think of it as training for your immune system so it can stay on its toes moving forward.


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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness Coach. She specializes in supporting parents and college students. Email her at drkarenlatimer@gmail.com to learn more. She is the author of the Audible Original, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents.