This isn’t only flu season. It’s also the time of year for a virus that’s even more prevalent and potentially more harmful in its effects. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has been around for decades, affecting everyone from brand new infants to older adults.

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In older children and adults, the symptoms are similar to those of a common cold – runny nose and congestion – but for infants, RSV is a more serious infection. It’s the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Robert Zanni, a pediatric pulmonologist at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, said common symptoms among infants, especially those born prematurely, include increased respiratory rates, wheezing and pneumonia.

“We’re seeing cases already,” Zanni said. “And it’s highly contagious – spreads through communities very easily through cough, sneezing, direct contact, handshaking.”

Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine. There is no cure either; medical professionals treat the symptoms as they present themselves. Zanni said medication can be used to fight against the virus, and it has made a difference in premature infants and children with underlying medical conditions. Serious cases of RSV have turned fatal.

Zanni called RSV “much more virulent” than influenza in terms of its prevalence and how it strikes a community. “Good, common hygiene sense” can help prevent its spread.

“That comes with good hand-washing, and trying to stay away from areas where you know people are sick,” Zanni said.