Closeup of Hispanic nurse rubbing her forehead, looking tired/stressed

Long-term care providers should keep a lookout — and potentially test for — a common respiratory virus that is spreading off-season in the southern United States, according to a health alert posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, typically is responsible for outbreaks during cold and flu season. But since late March, the CDC has noted an increase in RSV detected by clinical tests across the southern states. Long-term care residents and staff members who have acute respiratory illness or age-specific symptoms but a negative COVID-19 test should be tested for non-SARS-CoV-2 respiratory pathogens such as RSV, the agency cautioned in a June 10 posting.

Facility staff members also should avoid reporting to work while acutely ill — even if they test negative for SARS-CoV-2, CDC said. 

RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults (runny nose, sore throat, cough, headache, fatigue and fever). It can become serious in the elderly, however, particularly for those who have chronic medical conditions and live in communal settings. Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) is the preferred method to test for the virus, the agency added. 

Since the heightened transmission is a deviation from normal virus activity, “it is not possible to predict the spread, peak, or duration of the spread with any certainty,” CDC noted. Similar off-season spread has occurred earlier in Australia and South Africa, but did not reach peak levels, the agency noted.

Symptom management is the standard treatment for RSV. The CDC urges clinicians to report laboratory-confirmed RSV cases and suspected clusters of severe respiratory illness to local and state health departments.

The RSV uptick has hit Health and Human Services Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) and Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas).