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October 28th, 2009
05:04 PM ET

It’s not always H1N1

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

For all the (legitimate) talk about the new H1N1 influenza virus, it's worth a reminder that this new flu strain is not all we have to worry about as fall turns into winter (except for Colorado, which evidently has winter now).

There's also something called "RSV." As a medical reporter, I've come across this term a few times. As a new mom of a 6-month-old, I've paid a little more attention and did some research. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, can cause upper- and lower-respiratory infections.
The symptoms include runny nose, dry cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, mild headache and general discomfort. But in severe cases, it can cause bronchiolitis (infection of the tiny airways in the lungs) and pneumonia. According to the Mayo Clinic, severe symptoms include "high fever, severe cough, wheezing - a high-pitched noise that's usually heard on breathing out (exhaling), difficulty breathing, and bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen. "

RSV is so common that virtually every child will be infected before his or her second birthday. Fortunately, only a small percentage of infants develop severe illness. Luckily for my little guy, he's apparently no longer in the highest risk group, since most children hospitalized for RSV infection are younger than 6 months of age, according to the CDC. However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February suggests that among children 5 and younger, RSV infection is responsible for approximately 1of every 334 hospitalizations, 1 of every 38 visits to an emergency department, and 1 of every 13 visits to a primary care office each year in the United States.

Older people and adults with underlying illness can also be affected, but young children are at highest risk. One way to limit the risk to your child is to require folks to wash their hands before picking up your baby. Kissing can also spread RSV.

On August 30, the CDC stopped counting only H1N1 hospitalizations and deaths and started counting all hospitalizations for H1N1 and pneumonia; the new numbers will probably include cases of RSV too.

Consider this your reminder that in addition to H1N1 or swine flu, there are other viruses that lurk around. So if you or your children or parents get sick, it's not automatically always swine flu.

Have you had an experience with RSV that you can share with others?


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.