Mason researcher offers guidance on RSV and other respiratory pathogens

Amira Roess portrait
Amira Roess

Now that most public school districts have resumed in-person instruction, those in health care are beginning to see increases in pediatric admissions due to COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens and are bracing for surges, according to Amira Albert Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology in George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services.

That follows a spike in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, cases over the summer both in the United States and elsewhere. RSV is a nonseasonal respiratory illness that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

“For the majority of children and healthy adults, RSV typically presents as a mild respiratory illness,” said Roess. “But for young infants less than 6 months old, older adults, and individuals with underlying conditions, RSV can be very serious.” 

Roess said medical professionals are seeing increases in RSV and reports of RSV/COVID-19 co-infection across the country.

“This may be attributable to the fact that for over a year and a half many children had limited contact with others and thus infection was drastically reduced,” said Roess. “It is likely that any naturally acquired immunity has also waned. As children increased their social activities, transmission also surged.”

Roess said handling contaminated toys or other objects and then touching one’s eyes or nose can easily spread RSV.  It is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children under the age of 1 year of age in the United States.

“It’s possible to get infected by being in close proximity to someone who is infectious,” said Roess. “Especially in states that are the hardest hit by COVID-19 right now, for example Texas, Florida and Alabama, emergency departments are seeing a surge in children infected with these viruses and also a surge in co-infections.”

Protection strategies to prevent the spread of RSV are similar to those for the prevention of spread of COVID, Roess said.

“Wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and good hand hygiene are key,” she said. “Remind children to keep their masks on, and to keep their hands clean. Child care providers should wipe down surfaces, supplies, and doorknobs periodically to reduce transmission.” 

In addition, Roess said that COVID and RSV have similar symptoms.  

“We want to avoid situations in which an individual is infected with both RSV and the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 vaccination provides protection against COVID-19, especially against severe disease, and this can help you avoid dual infection.”

Roess said anyone with a high fever and/or worsening respiratory symptoms should contact their health care provider.

Colds, strep throat and pink eye are all expected to make a comeback with in-person school and day care resuming. “These are highly transmissible and typically associated with school or day care attendance,” said Roess. “The silver lining is that transmission of these can be greatly reduced by following COVID-19 mitigation strategies.”

Improvements to ventilation systems can also reduce the transmission of respiratory pathogens, she said.

Amira Roess studies emerging infectious diseases. She has expertise in infectious diseases epidemiology, multidisciplinary and multispecies field research, and evaluating interventions to reduce the transmission and impact of infectious diseases. She can be reached at

For more information, contact Jeanene Harris at

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at