Kaylie Humphreys, ’20 Doctor of Nursing Practice, is researching a widespread airborne illness. It’s particularly infectious among infants and older generations; it raises questions about the public’s knowledge of basic handwashing principles, and there is no vaccine.
But it isn’t COVID-19. It’s respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV.
Humphreys researched RSV in the course of her doctor of nursing practice program – which prepares nurses for leadership roles in fields like clinical practice, administration, and clinical research. In a time when the coronavirus outbreak dominates hospitals, clinics, workplaces, and headlines, her study on a similar illness becomes timelier than ever.
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus is a common respiratory illness that shares many similarities with COVID-19. Common symptoms include coughing, sneezing, and fever, and they can appear in stages as opposed to all at once. Like the coronavirus, RSV can be spread by a cough or sneeze, or if you touch a virus-covered surface, then touch your face without washing your hands first. People of all ages can contract RSV, but those who are at most risk include older adults and adults and young children with underlying medical conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday. Most people who are infected with RSV will recover in a week or two, though there are more severe cases that can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
Inspiration in illness
Humphreys is a registered nurse at a hospital in the Reno-Sparks area in Northern Nevada. She saw her sister-in-law and friends who are working mothers put their children in daycares and preschools, and the children were constantly sick.
When children fell ill, the burden on the parents grew.
“Moms had to call in sick because their kids are sick, then it puts stress on the dads, because they have to rotate turns calling in sick and they have to take the child to the doctor,” Humphreys said. “And that costs money.”
Through her research, Humphreys discovered families were not guiding their children on basic cleanliness techniques. She created a pamphlet on RSV, to give parents some peace of mind to have something written down. Her brochure included basic facts about RSV, including symptoms and when to seek medical attention. She distributed them at different preschools in the Reno area.
Lack of education
A glaringly common denominator between RSV and COVID-19 is the knowledge – or lack thereof – of basic hygiene techniques.
“I think it’s because it’s not a priority really,” Humphreys said. “You expect yourself to get sick every so often. It’s typically when something serious hits, then it’s all of a sudden made a priority. Oftentimes, it’s too late. It’s not very exciting, but it’s often those basic boring principles are the most important.”
During Humphreys’ research, she found a study done on parents whose children had RSV. Out of 195 sets of parents, only 24 were ever taught basic infection prevention techniques, including how to cover a cough and wash your hands properly. Consequently, researchers found most parents in this study had trouble managing RSV even after seeing a family pediatrician. Humphreys found only a small percentage received good hygiene tips from a family doctor or general practitioner.
The coronavirus lessons from RSV
You can stop the spread of RSV like you would the coronavirus: cover your coughs and sneezes (avoid using your hands); wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds; avoid close contact with others; and clean contaminated surfaces.
Like the coronavirus, there is no available vaccine for RSV. Humphreys says this is why these hygienic skillsets are so critical, for either virus.
“I feel like they parallel on the fact you never know if it’s going to be really deadly or just mild like a cold. You’ve got to nip it in the bud by doing these basic things,” she said. “It’s in high-intensity moments we tend to freak ourselves out and make critical mistakes. I think we need to simplify this in our minds. We cannot overlook the life-saving power of basic hand hygiene, especially now more than ever.”
For More information on RSV, visit the CDC's website.