There has been a lot of talk recently about respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), recognized since 1956 as a mild respiratory virus. It’s the culprit for bronchitis, coughs, and what people call a “very bad cold.” Almost all of us have had RSV several times in our lives. In fact, 90 percent of children have had at least one bout of RSV by the time they are 2.

Until COVID, doctors, myself included, did not routinely test patients for RSV. Clinical judgment was usually accurate, patients don’t like nasal swabs and sputum collection, and RSV symptoms generally resolved before results returned from the lab. But RSV looks a lot like COVID—cough, fever, congestion, sore throat, and fatigue. In 2020, we suddenly needed to know whether our patients were suffering with the potentially deadly, unfamiliar virus, COVID, or with RSV, the mild virus patients’ immune systems had likely encountered many times.

In developing rapid tests for COVID, labs also developed rapid tests for RSV. That resulted in lots of RSV diagnoses and a misperception by some that RSV was on the rise. In May 2023, an RSV vaccine became available.

Unchanged about RSV is conventional medical treatment. It remains limited to rest, fluids, and time. If you get RSV, your symptoms will be less severe and you will feel better faster if you add several of these natural remedies to your regimen:

Take vitamin C, 500 milligrams (mg) every three hours. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune function. It will help your white blood cells fight the virus and will help reduce fatigue. Vitamin C can irritate your stomach lining, so take it with a small amount of food. Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea: Reduce the dose if your stool becomes loose.

Take a B complex that contains at least 50 mg of B5—pantothenic acid. B vitamins support immune health, and B5, in particular, helps adrenal function, necessary to fight an acute health problem. Always take vitamins with food for best absorption and tolerance.

Take a respiratory support herbal tincture. My favorite herbs for RSV are elecampane (Inula helenium), cherry bark (Prunus), anise (Pimpinella anisum), osha (Ligusticum porter) and yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum). These are antimicrobial, immune supportive, and decongesting. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for dosing, which is typically 60 drops of tincture in water five to six times a day.

Essential oil facial packs are immensely soothing. They decongest the respiratory tract and relax bronchospasms, reducing cough and aiding sleep. Put two drops each of lavender, thyme, and eucalyptus oil (or four to six drops of only one oil) in one cup of very hot water. Pour the water over a facecloth, wring it out, and place it over your nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin, keeping your eyes closed and leaving a gap for breathing. Cover with a dry towel. Leave in place for 10 minutes. Repeat as needed.

As with any viral illness, drink plenty of fluids, and rest a lot. RSV is most risky for infants and the elderly. However, if you have difficulty breathing or a severe, painful cough, see your doctor immediately.

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