Story by: Kim Huston on December 26, 2017
At least 34.2 million Americans will provide care to an elderly loved one this year, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. The task of providing at-home care can be especially difficult during the winter months when cold, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) diagnoses are on the rise. How do you protect the one you care for from getting sick, especially if you’re sick yourself?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV leads to 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths among adults older than 65. RSV is often thought of as a childhood disease, but knowing what you can do to prevent and spot RSV can keep your older loved ones safe during cold and flu season.
RSV, a common respiratory virus, can seem like a mild common cold to healthy adults. Most people can recover quickly with self-care in a week or two. But in older adults, especially those with asthma, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the virus can be very severe or even fatal. You can get RSV anytime, but reported cases are highest between November and April.
Signs of RSV begin to appear four to six days after being exposed to the virus. In adults and older children, RSV can present as:
The virus can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis (the small airway passages entering the lungs become inflamed). More severe RSV signs include:
If you have any signs of RSV, especially if you have a fever, try to limit the time you spend with your loved one until you’re healthy. See if another relative or friend can check on or provide care to your loved one. In reality, that’s not always possible, especially if your loved one relies on you for food prep and mobility help. What do you do in that situation?
“Caregivers should closely monitor temperature and other symptoms including cough, sore throat and body aches,” said Carmel J. Person, M.D., Norton Community Medical Associates – Geriatrics. “Anytime cold symptoms don’t improve in a day or two, or the condition worsens, call your doctor. Remember, you do not need to figure this out alone.”
If your loved one shows these signs of severe RSV, go to the emergency room:
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