At a briefing on the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) Monday, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital leaders described the surge in cases as part of a “tri-demic” that also included influenza and COVID-19.
Hospital president and CEO Denise Schepici said RSV was “most common in the winter months” but had come early and heavy this year. “In the past two weeks our hospital has diagnosed more that 76 cases of RSV — 85 percent of those cases have occurred in children under 12,” Schepici said. In the greater Boston area, she said, there has been an uptick in RSV and no indication it will abate.
“It’s a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, such as coughing and sneezing,” Schepici said. “But in more severe cases you’ll see more severe symptoms including fever. Most people recover in a week or two but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. Babies and children who are most likely to develop the severe cases are those under age 5 or those with weakened immune systems or lung conditions — and babies who are born prematurely.”
Claire Seguin, chief nurse and chief operating officer, advised hand washing with soap or sanitizer to avoid infection and to keep one’s hands away from one’s face, nose, and mouth.
Seguin also recommended cleaning “high touch surfaces often” like counters and doorknobs.
Seguin said RSV is spread by mouth and nose droplets. Infected people who cough, sneeze, or blow their nose nearby or handshakes or kissing can spread it. Also touching surfaces and objects touched by an infected person can lead to infection. RSV “can spread quickly through enclosed shared spaces,” she said.
Consider wearing a mask “if you are uncertain of the environment you are in,” Schepici said.
To keep from transmitting RSV, Seguin said stay home if you are sick and also to cover coughs and sneezes.
Seguin suggested people should visit the hospital’s emergency room if they or their children have trouble breathing or cannot drink enough fluids. However, she asked people not to come to the emergency room just for testing.
Seguin described RSV as “one of the most common respiratory viral illnesses there is” and the uptick appears to stem from children and other vulnerable people not building up their immune systems during the COVID-19 pandemic when folks were isolated.
She also said older adults weren’t previously tested as much for RSV so increased testing in that population has revealed more infections.
Seguin reminded Vineryarders to get their COVID-19 boosters and flu shots.
Tisbury Health Agent Maura Valley told The Times she felt Seguin “did a good job of covering precautions that people should take to reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses.” Valley, who was a spokesperson for the Vineyard boards of health through the thick of the pandemic, pointed out those boards are still at work on prevention.
“The boards of health continue to distribute free COVID test kits and recommend that individuals keep some test kits on hand for testing prior to holiday events,’ Valley wrote. “We also have a supply of n95 masks for anyone interested. The best way to prevent illness from COVID and flu is to get vaccinated and boostered if eligible. To help facilitate vaccinations we’re working with the CAP program to bring the COVID vax bus back to the Island in December. We’re also working with Island Health Care to schedule community flu vaccination clinics at the end of November. Once we’ve confirmed the dates and times for these clinics we’ll get the information out to the public. As Claire said, wash your hands and clean high touch surfaces frequently, wear a mask in crowded areas and stay home if you’re sick.”
Updated to include comments from Valley.