If you’re a grown-up, you’ve probably had RSV, aka, respiratory syncytial virus as a child…most 2-year-olds do. And so was it for me a long time ago. But today, I am 2.5 years old AND an adult because of the stem cell transplant I had 2.5 years ago to cure my rare type of leukemia. Due to immunosuppression, stem cell transplant, and probably a host of other contributing factors I’m unaware of, I contracted RSV. It’s a common respiratory virus that healthy people recover from easily, but less so in infants, immunocompromised adults, and older adults. And because I remain immunocompromised, the common childhood cold has been long and severe…going on 3 weeks now.
This blog post talks about the common symptoms of RSV, how to avoid it, how to manage symptoms, and measures to employ to prevent spreading RSV. The goal is to prevent contracting RSV in the first place, but your diligence may not be enough, like in my case.
RSV is very easily contracted! It spreads when infected people cough or sneeze…these droplets land on nearby surfaces and on you if you are close. It also spreads through direct contact like kissing someone on the face with RSV or indirectly by breathing in RSV rich droplets suspended in the air.
- Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday…it’s almost a right of passage. So, I am on target since my blood confirms I am 2.5 years old…refer to this post.
- People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected.
- If a healthy adult is infected with RSV, he/she is usually contagious for 3-8 days. BUT, for immunocompromised adults & some infants, they can spread the virus up to 4 weeks!
- In children younger than 1-year-old, RSV is the most common cause of inflamed airways (bronchiolitis) and pneumonia. It also causes significant respiratory illness in immunocompromised adults and older adults.
- The virus can survive for many hours on hard surfaces like countertops, tables, cribs, doorknobs, and less time on soft surfaces like pillows, tissues, and clothes.
- People at the highest risk for severe and prolonged illness are:
- premature infants
- young children with congenital (from birth) heart or chronic lung disease
- young children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment
- adults with compromised immune systems
- older adults, especially those with underlying heart or lung disease
- A runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
- Fever…you may or may not have a fever
If you are immunocompromised, your neutrophil count may drop significantly with RSV. My neutrophil count dropped from 5,620 on Dec 11, 2018 to 500 neutrophils per microliter of blood…I am in the danger zone big time.
A little explanation about neutrophils…are a type of white blood cell (aka WBC) that protects us from infections as well as other functions. Neutrophils are the first cells to arrive on the scene when we experience any infectious process.
Normal neutrophil count (called absolute neutrophil count=ANC) is 2,500 – 7,500 neutrophils per microliter of blood.
RSV Care: here’s what worked for me
- If you’ve had a stem cell transplant…first and foremost, inform your transplant team! They will most likely prescribe a couple of antivirals and Neupogen to raise your white blood cell counts.
- Cough drops…cough suppressant and expectorant…ibuprofen…hot tea. The coughing got so bad that I sounded like Dick Cheney when I laughed!
- Listen to your body. You will feel more fatigued than usual, so take it easy.
- Drink lots and lots of fluids…water is best. Avoid alcohol.
- Try not to laugh, otherwise, you’ll sound like Dick Cheney and scare people off…I am not kidding!
How to Prevent Spreading RSV:
Follow these steps to help RSV from spreading:
- When you cough, cough into your elbow, not in your hands or in the air
- Wash your hands with soap and water x 20 seconds. You will find this burdensome, but do it! Do it after coughing, before eating, after using the restroom, after doing most things.
- If you can’t wash your hands due to circumstances, use hand sanitizer. A side note: hand sanitizer only works when it is dry.
- Get in the habit of your face being the ‘No Touch Zone’ with your unwashed hands. I know this is hard but it is critical. Wear a surgical mask as a barrier to help you remember…it works!
- Avoid kissing, shaking hands, sharing food with others. Instead of hugging and
shaking hands, I use elbows…the elbow bump.
- Wipe down hard surfaces with Clorox or Lysol wipes…they do not contain bleach. Hard surfaces include countertops, doorknobs, any type of handles, the interior of your car. Don’t forget cell phones, tablets, and other frequently used electronic devices.
- Use Lysol spray to disinfect soft surfaces, like pillows and upholstery.
Live your best life and stay healthy!
–baby girl Marti
For more information on RSV, read this excellent source…CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/index.html