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Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections

What is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus. It usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. But it can cause serious lung infections, especially in infants, older adults, and people with serious medical problems.

How is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) spread?

RSV spreads from person to person through

  • The air by coughing and sneezing
  • Direct contact, such as kissing the face of a child who has RSV
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands

People who have an RSV infection are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. But sometimes infants and people with weakened immune systems can continue to spread the virus for as long as 4 weeks.

Who is at risk for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections?

RSV can affect people of all ages. But it is very common in small children; nearly all children become infected with RSV by age 2. In the United States, RSV infections usually occur during fall, winter, or spring.

Certain people are at higher risk of having a severe RSV infection:

  • Infants
  • Older adults, especially those age 65 and older
  • People with chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease
  • People with weakened immune systems
What are the symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections?

The symptoms of RSV infection usually start about 4 to 6 days after infection. They include

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

These symptoms usually appear in stages instead of all at once. In very young infants, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and trouble breathing.

RSV can also cause more severe infections, especially in people at high risk. These infections include bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.

How are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections diagnosed?

Your health care provider may use many tools to make a diagnosis:

  • A medical history, including asking about symptoms
  • A physical exam
  • A lab test of nasal fluid or another respiratory specimen to check for RSV. This is usually done for people with severe infection.
  • Tests to check for complications in people with severe infection. The tests may include a chest x-ray and blood and urine tests.
What are the treatments for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections?

There is no specific treatment for RSV infection. Most infections go away on their own in a week or two. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help with the fever and pain. However, do not give aspirin to children. And do not give cough medicine to children under four. It is also important to get enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

Some people with severe infection may need to be hospitalized. There, they might get oxygen, a breathing tube, or a ventilator.

Can respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections be prevented?

There are no vaccines for RSV. But you may able to reduce your risk of getting or spreading an RSV infection by

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoiding touching your face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others if you are sick or they are sick
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Then throw away the tissue and wash your hands
  • Staying home when sick

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Shingles

What is shingles?

Shingles is an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It may not cause problems for many years. But as you get older, the virus may reappear as shingles.

Is shingles contagious?

Shingles is not contagious. But you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles. If you've never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, try to stay away from anyone who has shingles.

If you have shingles, try to stay away from anyone who has not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, or anyone who might have a weak immune system.

Who is at risk for shingles?

Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for getting shingles. But this risk goes up as you get older; shingles is most common in people over age 50.

People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting shingles. This includes those who

  • Have immune system diseases such as HIV/AIDS
  • Have certain cancers
  • Take immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant

Your immune system may be weaker when you have an infection or are stressed. This can raise your risk of shingles.

It is rare, but possible, to get shingles more than once.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching. It is usually on one side of the body or face. The pain can be mild to severe.

One to 14 days later, you will get a rash. It consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days. The rash is usually a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash.

Some people may also have other symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach
What other problems can shingles cause?

Shingles can cause complications:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is most common complication of shingles. It causes severe pain in the areas where you had the shingles rash. It usually gets better in a few weeks or months. But some people can have pain from PHN for many years, and it can interfere with daily life.
  • Vision loss can happen if shingles affects your eye. It may be temporary or permanent.
  • Hearing or balance problems are possible if you have shingles within or near your ear. You may also have weakness of the muscles on that side of your face. These problems can be temporary or permanent.

Very rarely, shingles can also lead to pneumonia, brain inflammation (encephalitis), or death.

How is shingles diagnosed?

Usually your health care provider can diagnose shingles by taking your medical history and looking at your rash. In some cases, your provider may scrap off tissue from the rash or swab some fluid from the blisters and send the sample to a lab for testing.

What are the treatments for shingles?

There is no cure for shingles. Antiviral medicines may help to make the attack shorter and less severe. They may also help prevent PHN. The medicines are most effective if you can take them within 3 days after the rash appears. So if you think you might have shingles, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.

Pain relievers may also help with the pain. A cool washcloth, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.

Can shingles be prevented?

There are vaccines to prevent shingles or lessen its effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get the Shingrix vaccine. You need two doses of the vaccine, given 2 to 6 months apart. Another vaccine, Zostavax, may be used in certain cases.

Smoking

What are the health effects of smoking?

There's no way around it; smoking is bad for your health. It harms nearly every organ of the body, some that you would not expect. Cigarette smoking causes nearly one in five deaths in the United States. It can also cause many other cancers and health problems. These include

  • Cancers, including lung and oral cancers
  • Lung diseases, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Damage to and thickening of blood vessels, which causes high blood pressure
  • Blood clots and stroke
  • Vision problems, such as cataracts and macular degeneration (AMD)

Women who smoke while pregnant have a greater chance of certain pregnancy problems. Their babies are also at higher risk of dying of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Smoking also causes addiction to nicotine, a stimulant drug that is in tobacco. Nicotine addiction makes it much harder for people to quit smoking.

What are the health risks of secondhand smoke?

Your smoke is also bad for other people - they breathe in your smoke secondhand and can get many of the same problems as smokers do. This includes heart disease and lung cancer. Children exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, and more severe asthma. Mothers who breathe secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have preterm labor and babies with low birth weight.

Are other forms of tobacco also dangerous?

Besides cigarettes, there are several other forms of tobacco. Some people smoke tobacco in cigars and water pipes (hookahs). These forms of tobacco also contain harmful chemicals and nicotine. Some cigars contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes.

E-cigarettes often look like cigarettes, but they work differently. They are battery-operated smoking devices. Using an e-cigarette is called vaping. Not much is known about the health risks of using them. We do know they contain nicotine, the same addictive substance in tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes also expose non-smokers to secondhand aerosols (rather than secondhand smoke), which contain harmful chemicals.

Smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and snuff, is also bad for your health. Smokeless tobacco can cause certain cancers, including oral cancer. It also increases your risk of getting heart disease, gum disease, and oral lesions.

Why should I quit?

Remember, there is no safe level of tobacco use. Smoking even just one cigarette per day over a lifetime can cause smoking-related cancers and premature death. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of health problems. The earlier you quit, the greater the benefit. Some immediate benefits of quitting include

  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure
  • Less carbon monoxide in the blood (carbon monoxide reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen)
  • Better circulation
  • Less coughing and wheezing

NIH National Cancer Institute

X-Rays

X-rays are a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. X-ray imaging creates pictures of the inside of your body. The images show the parts of your body in different shades of black and white. This is because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation. Calcium in bones absorbs x-rays the most, so bones look white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less and look gray. Air absorbs the least, so lungs look black.

The most familiar use of x-rays is checking for fractures (broken bones), but x-rays are also used in other ways. For example, chest x-rays can spot pneumonia. Mammograms use x-rays to look for breast cancer.

When you have an x-ray, you may wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of your body. The amount of radiation you get from an x-ray is small. For example, a chest x-ray gives out a radiation dose similar to the amount of radiation you're naturally exposed to from the environment over 10 days.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)

COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is an illness caused by a virus. This virus is a new coronavirus that has spread throughout the world. It is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person to person. On this page, you'll find links to resources on important issues such as symptoms, risks, and how you can protect yourself and your family.

We also have pages on COVID-19 testing and vaccines, including the vaccines that have been authorized in the United States and the others that are still in progress.