Wash hands often since RSV cases have increased, Lee health officials say

Wash hands often since RSV cases have increased, Lee health officials say

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— Lee County public health officials are advising people to wash their hands often to protect against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, due to a spike of hospitalizations among children.

"While most cases of RSV are mild and do not require hospitalization, premature infants, children with heart or lung conditions, or weak immune systems are at the highest risk," Dr. Stephanie Stovall, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida, said in a news release.

Adults who have a compromised immune system also are at risk, she said.

Eighteen children with the illness, as a primary or secondary diagnosis, were admitted in September and there were 14 admissions the month before, according to Mary Briggs, Lee Memorial Health System spokeswoman. That compares to three cases in July, five in June and four in May.

Collier County Health Department spokeswoman Deb Millsap said there's been no uptick in Collier.

"It is normal this time of year for us," she said. "We are usually most concerned about infants under 1 year old or who have a secondary condition like asthma."

The illness is characterized by mild cold-like symptoms in adults and older children but it can cause bronchitis or pneumonia in high-risk children younger than 2 and in the elderly.

Florida's RSV season lasts from August through March in some parts of the state, something that is much longer than in other areas of Florida.

Dr. Judith Hartner, executive director of the Lee health department, said someone can be contagious before symptoms start to appear so the best defense is frequent hand-washing.

The respiratory illness is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and virus-containing droplets are set loose in the air, which can come into contact with another person with their mouth, nose or eyes.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infection can also occur with direct contact, such as kissing the face of a child with RSV.

Almost all children will have an RSV infection by their second birthday, according to the CDC. Infants and children usually show symptoms four to six days of infection; most will recover in one to two weeks. There is no specific treatment.

"Studies have shown RSV virus can remain alive and contagious on hands for 30 minutes or more," Hartner said.

"There is no better prevention than covering coughs and sneezes (and) then thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer."

Other preventive measures include not sharing cups or utensils and keeping sick people at home.

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