Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) is a very contagious virus that affects a majority of infants before age 2, and is most common in late fall to early spring. Most children’s RSV appears as a common cold, but a few infant’s RSV can cause serious problems such as an infection in the small airway of the lungs (Bronchiolitis) or pneumonia.
According to the CDC, higher risk is found with:
- Babies born prematurely
- Children younger than 2 who were born with heart and lung disease
- Infants and young children whose immune systems are weakened due to illness or medical treatment
- Infants under 8 to 10 weeks old
With RSV, most of the time it will present as a common cold—cough or runny nose which will last about one to two weeks. More serious issues will present differently and your child’s doctor needs to be called immediately is the following symptoms occur:
- Difficulty breathing
- Cough that is producing mucus that is green, yellow or gray in color
- Child is unusually upset or inactive
- Child refuses to bottle or breast feed
- Dehydration— lack of tears when crying, a dry diaper for longer than 6 hours or dry skin.
If your child is very tired, breathing quickly or has a blue tint to lips or finger nails, immediate medical attention is needed.
There is no vaccine for RSV, but simple steps can be taken to help prevent RSV:
- Wash hands with warm soapy water.
- Clean and disinfect hard surfaces.
- Wash objects that a child may touch or hold.
- Keep your baby away from crowds and allow people to only hold the baby after washing their hands.
- Avoid kissing a child if you have cold like symptoms present.
- For children who have heart or lung disease, limit their time in a daycare setting during times when RSV is most common.
- Keep family, including siblings, away from an infant if they have signs of a cold.
- Never let people smoke near your infant.
Even though there is a medication that helps prevent high risk infants from getting RSV, there is no drug available to treat the actual virus if an infant is infected. Treatment must focus on the infection and the respiratory symptoms.
In home treatments that work best include:
- Keeping nasal passages clear of mucus with a bulb syringe and saline drops.
- Using a cool mist vaporizer.
- Keeping infants hydrated.
- Non-aspirin fever reducers (ask your child’s doctor before use)
While RSV is usually identified as a virus in infants, recent studies have found that older adults are also considered high risk. Adults with RSV may also present the illness as a common cold but older adults with compromised lung disease are considered high risk. RSV in adults can cause pneumonia, or an exacerbation of COPD or congestive heart failure.
Adults can follow the same prevention steps above to help avoid RSV, but need to be aware of changes in health and notify their doctors immediately.
RSV may only be noticed as a common cold in your house but watching for serious signs and symptoms is very important to the health and well-being of your infant and elderly family members. Understanding RSV and using easy steps to prevent it is the first line of defense.