What are the symptoms of RSV?

Across Canada, cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are on the rise, particularly among children.

RSV is a very common virus that causes infections in an individual’s respiratory tract, according to the National Collaborating Center for Infectious Diseases, a Winnipeg-based organization.

Doctors have sounded the alarm over rising cases in the United States, and authorities north of the border are also seeing an increase in cases. The Public Health Agency of Canada said in its latest report on respiratory virus detections that there has been a steady increase in positive RSV cases since early September.

The report, which provides data for the week ending October 15, says the number of cases is « higher than expected levels for this time of year » and that so far there have been 486 cases detected. and a positivity rate of 3.5%.

The biggest increase was in Quebec, where weekly positivity rates hovered around 13% and indicate that the province is in the midst of a major RSV season that normally would not have started yet, according to information from The Canadian Press.

Parents have raised concerns with CTVNews.ca about the spread of the virus, saying they worry about their children’s vulnerability with reduced health restrictions in schools.

And the rise in RSV cases at a time when hospitals across the country are facing significant pressure, emergency room closures and staffing shortages are adding an extra layer of stress for worried parents.

Additionally, some hospitals are reporting a large influx of RSV-related admissions. Staff at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), an Ottawa-based pediatric hospital, told a press conference Wednesday that RSV admissions for October are currently 10 times higher than the pre-pandemic historical average, which is only three cases.

“What we are currently seeing in terms of RSV at CHEO also reflects what is happening in Ontario and south of the border. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of RSV cases and a significant increase in RSV hospitalizations,” said Dr. Chuck Hui, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Immunology and Allergy at CHEO, at the press conference. .

So what is RSV and what kind of impact can it have on the body? Here’s what you need to know.


According to the National Collaborating Center for Infectious Diseases, RSV is a common virus in the respiratory tract and is characterized by single-stranded RNA.

There are annual outbreaks of the disease that causes respiratory tract infections, usually from late fall to early spring, according to PHAC’s disease information bulletin. RSV is also the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections in young children worldwide, says PHAC.

« As with all respiratory viruses, they disproportionately affect children, and especially children under two, » Hui said.


According to the National Collaborating Center, people infected with RSV show symptoms about four to six days after being infected.

A person will typically experience cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, cough, sneezing, fever and wheezing, as well as a decreased appetite, the Center says on its website. .

For particular symptoms in babies, an infant may seem overly irritable and less active, and have difficulty breathing, he adds.


RSV is transmitted through direct contact with “infectious secretions” via large-particle objects or aerosols, according to the National Collaborating Center.

This means that when someone coughs or sneezes and virus droplets enter the body through the eyes, nose or mouth, RSV can spread. It can also be spread by touching a surface that has RSV droplets on it and then touching the face, as the RSV virus can survive for hours on surfaces, according to the center.

People are usually most contagious in the first week after an infection, but those with weaker immune systems or babies can remain contagious for weeks, the center warns.

What health outcomes can occur after contracting RSV?

While many RSV infections result in mild ‘simple colds’, the virus can also have serious consequences, including bronchiolitis or pneumonia that can lead to hospitalization, especially in children under the age of two, according to PHAC. .

Any underlying health condition like premature birth, chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease could make a person more likely to develop serious consequences if infected with RSV, he said.

According to the National Collaborating Center, the type of infection that RSV can produce ranges from lower respiratory tract infections to upper infections.

« RSV infections typically begin with upper respiratory disease that tends to progress to lower respiratory disease in 50% of cases, » the center states on its website.

And most infections go away on their own within one to two weeks. However, infants and people over the age of 65 are most at risk for more serious infection, and in some cases an ear infection can also occur, the center says.

« RSV can also worsen chronic health conditions like asthma or heart and lung disease, such as a person may experience asthma attacks as a result of an RSV infection, » he says.

Most of the time, people are fairly resistant to RSV, but may require hospitalization to support their breathing, or may need fluids, Hui said at the CHEO press conference.


The Public Health Agency of Canada states on its website that there is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for RSV.

However, researchers are working to develop vaccines and antiviral treatments, according to the National Collaborating Center for Infectious Disease.

“We hope to have a vaccine in the fairly near future,” Hui said. A « comprehensive set » of approaches can be used to treat RSV, including getting the flu shot, getting the COVID-19 shot and staying home when sick, he added.

Public health units recommend wearing masks in indoor spaces because it can help prevent and reduce all types of viruses, including RSV, Hui said.

Hospital care is needed if the elderly or infants under six months have difficulty breathing or are dehydrated, and if oxygen is needed.

Washing your hands often, cleaning frequent contact points and surfaces, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding close contact will help curb the spread of the virus, the center says on its website.

“Steps can be taken to relieve symptoms associated with RSV infections, such as managing fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen,” the center states on its website. . However, do not give children aspirin, he adds.

Concerns about a current shortage of children’s Tylenol and painkillers in general during the spike in RSV cases are also worrying parents.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University in Montreal, told CTVNews.ca on Monday that RSV is highly contagious in a way similar to COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.

« We’re seeing a return to pre-pandemic with these respiratory viruses, except it’s not just these pre-pandemic respiratory viruses – added to the mix now there’s also the COVID, » he said.


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