As COVID-19 hospitalizations remain low in the territory, another respiratory virus thriving on the mainland has put seven people in the hospital in the U.S. Virgin Islands, officials said Monday.
Respiratory syncytial virus, better known as RSV, typically affects children under two years old but can also affect adults. This virus usually has mild symptoms, including fever, cough and runny nose. The infection can be very dangerous, however, for children and adults with compromised immune or respiratory systems, said Dr. Esther Ellis, the territorial epidemiologist.
Nationally, RSV cases dropped as children stayed home from school during the height of the COVID pandemic, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Disease. RSV cases surged as children returned to school, according to the foundation.
Ellis did not give the ages of the six people on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix hospitalized with RSV but warned it can lead to pneumonia or bronchiolitis.
Worse, it can be initially misdiagnosed as COVID-19 or influenza as they all have similar symptoms, she warned.
“It is possible to become infected with more than one of these respiratory illnesses at the same time,” Ellis said “When co-infections occur, the outcomes can be more severe.”
There is no vaccine for RSV yet but the COVID and flu shots are readily available. The territory currently had two people hospitalized with COVID, Ellis said, one each on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Ellis and the Department of Health recommended everyone get vaccinated.
She also recommended practicing “respiratory hygiene” behaviors: frequent hand washing, coughing into an elbow or tissue, and staying home when sick.
The monkeypox vaccine Is available to anyone who wants one, although no confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported in the USVI, Ellis said.