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What You Need to Know About Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017
For many, getting a cold is an expected part of winter. But not all colds are created equal or affect all people the same way. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection causes colds (upper respiratory infections) in healthy adults and older children, yet it is the leading cause of lower respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia in children under the age of one worldwide and causes serious health concerns for older populations.

For many, getting a cold is an expected part of winter. But not all colds are created equal or affect all people the same way. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection causes colds (upper respiratory infections) in healthy adults and older children, yet it is the leading cause of lower respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia in children under the age of one worldwide and causes serious health concerns for older populations.

Trends in RSV

RSV outbreaks occur in the fall through the spring, so it is important to take precautions throughout the entire season. Like any cold, the virus spreads quickly and easily. Because of this, almost all children will have RSV before their second birthday. With that in mind, it is important to take cold-like symptoms seriously right away and to be especially careful to try to prevent illness in children under the age of one, since they are more likely to be sicker with RSV. Between one quarter and one half of all infants under two will develop pneumonia or bronchitis from RSV infection.

Prevention and Care

Adults with common cold symptoms should be careful around infants and young children and avoid introducing the disease to nursing homes and to older adults or adults with weakened immune systems. Keep sick children out of day care, and always cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands, and clean door knobs and other common handles in the home.

Doctors can perform tests for RSV. Most children infected will start off with a runny nose and decreased appetite. Within one to three days, children will typically start coughing and sneezing and develop a fever.

There is no specific treatment for RSV. Patients and parents should take care of the cold and symptoms using cough medicine, pain relievers/fever reducers, and air humidifiers to break up chest congestion. A doctor can determine the best route of care for a sick child and, if the disease is very severe, may hospitalize him or her temporarily to supply oxygen to the infant or using breathing tubes. Even in these cases, the illness only lasts a few days and infants generally recover within one to two weeks. It is important for parents to note that even for one to two weeks after infection, the infant may still be able to spread the virus and should have limited contact with other kids who could become infected.

Take Colds Seriously

This winter think about others when you come down with that “mild” cold and take steps to protect the youngest and oldest in your community. If you are a parent, know the signs and symptoms of RSV and bring your child to the doctor right away to find the best care to prevent more serious illness and get your child well quickly.