Former surgeon general Dr. Adams talks about protection against RSV

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana hospitals are battling a surge in respiratory syncytial virus infections with doctors calling the numbers staggering.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the virus more commonly known by its acronym, RSV, shows the jump in Indiana happened in just the past five weeks.

WISH-TV’s medical expert and former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, answers the most asked questions in an interview.

Dr. Mary Gillis: Just how bad is RSV right now?

Dr. Jerome Adams: Well, right now, it’s very regional and it’s important for people to understand that’s the way a lot of these respiratory viruses evolve. It may hit New York hard and then it may hit Chicago hard and then it may hit Indiana hard. But as you mentioned, we’re now seeing increased pediatric cases in Indiana as the weather is getting colder and as more people are heading indoors. This makes the environment more hospitable for a respiratory virus like RSV, and we also know that many people haven’t been exposed to this the last several years because of COVID. They’ve been inside. They’ve been wearing masks. Now, they’re exposed and we’re seeing that and hospitalizations are unfortunately rising rapidly.

Gillis: How can parents protect their kids?

Adams: One of the things that we can do is remember the three C’s: clean, cover and contain. We want to clean surfaces. We want to make sure we’re washing our hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and water. I often tell people to sing the ABC’s when they’re washing their hands. That’s how we protect ourselves against most respiratory viruses that are transmitted by droplets. But, something else you can do is get your kids vaccinated against flu and talk to your provider about whether or not a COVID vaccination is appropriate for your kids. In most cases it will be. Why does that matter? Well, because many of these viruses are going to have similar symptoms. If you’re vaccinated against flu or COVID, it’s going to  lessen the chance you’re going to have to deal with these symptoms. 

Gillis: We’ve been talking about infants. What about adults? Are they at risk and can it be fatal?

Adams: Everyone is at risk. We know that RSV particularly hits children harder, but adults can transmit it. Again, the three C’s are important for all of us: clean, cover and contain. Make sure you’re washing your hands, make sure you’re cleaning surfaces and make sure you’re staying home when you’re sick. Make sure you’re covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.  

Gillis: We’ve talked about being separated for two years. Will this let other viruses run rampant again, and could this be a sign of a bad winter season?

Adams: There are a lot of signs that it could potentially be a very bad winter. We’re seeing flu cases peak. We’re seeing RSV hitting hard, and when you look at the way COVID is starting to increase again, particularly with new variants, we could have a triple whammy that could really hurt our hospital capacity in our hospital system. So the question is, what can we do? 

We can take real tangible measures by getting vaccinated against the flu and against COVID. Try to get your flu vaccination before the end of October. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about the COVID vaccination. Those are steps that we can take right now in addition to clean, cover and contain. Also, for those who are willing, masking is not a bad idea. Masking protects you against COVID. But, guess what? It also lessens your chance of getting influenza and RSV or spreading it to someone in your family. Those are things that we can do to protect ourselves this winter.