Vital Reminders for Respiratory Syncytial Virus
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common respiratory virus that causes infection of the lungs and respiratory tract. RSV can infect year round but typically runs from fall to spring. Although RSV may mimic the symptoms of a common cold, it can be much more serious.
RSV is one of the leading causes of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in children younger than one year old in the United States. That said, children are not the only ones who can be affected by RSV—it also poses a significant risk of respiratory illness in older adults. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by the time they are two years old.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
- Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing (the child may prefer to sit up)
- Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen
Infants are known to be most affected by RSV. In very young infants, RSV may present with short, shallow and rapid breathing, cough, poor feeding, unusual tiredness and irritability. Sometimes you may notice that your infant's chest muscle pulls inward when taking a breath, this is a very good sign that the infant is having a hard time breathing and needs immediate medical care.
Who is at risk?
- Premature babies
- Older adults
- Infants and adults with heart and lung disease
- Anyone with a very weak immune system
Diagnosis of RSV:
- Blood test
- Chest X-rays
- Swabs of secretions from inside the mouth or nose to check for signs of the virus
- Pulse oximetry to detect lower-than-normal levels of oxygen in the blood
Although very serious, RSV tends to go away on its own after a week or two. What may help in the meantime? Comfort care at home, such as treating fevers with acetaminophen or ibuprofen (upon your doctor’s approval), lots of fluids, possibly a humidifier to ease cough or congestion, and staying away from any sort of smoke.
In some cases, when RSV is severe, hospitalization may be necessary. Only one to two out of every 100 children six months and younger may need to be hospitalized. In this case, treatment can include intravenous fluid, supplemental oxygen or, in severe cases, intubation. In most cases, stays in the hospital only last a few days.
We know that RSV is highly contagious and spreads through droplets and contact. As in most cases with illnesses such as the flu and common cold, RSV has some simple steps you can take to help prevent spreading the virus:
- Covering your cough
- Good handwashing
- Avoiding close contact when il
- Cleaning contaminated surfaces
As RSV is a virus, antibiotics are not usually prescribed unless an infection, such as pneumonia, develops. There is research being done on vaccines for RSV, but at this time none have been made available.
Julie Davis, LPN
One Community Health's population health assistant