With the winter season upon us, it’s important to be aware of all the illnesses the cold weather brings. Often going undetected, but still a serious threat, is a common seasonal virus called respiratory syncytial virus – or RSV. It is one of the most common viruses that cause respiratory tract infections, especially in children under the age of 4 years. In infants and young children, RSV can frequently lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the United States, more than 57,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection.
While RSV can be a cause for concern in parents of infants and children, they should also know that most kids recover from it well. The illness usually begins 4 to 6 days after exposure. Some of the symptoms of RSV include:
• Decrease in appetite
• Runny nose with a fever
• Sore throat
• Coughing, sneezing and possibly wheezing
• Very young infants often have irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties
• Sleep apnea or pauses in their breathing
The virus usually runs a 10 to 14 day course.
“This is the time of year that we start seeing more little ones with RSV,” says Dr. Mike Talley. “RSV is contagious and it’s spread by contact with saliva and mucus”.
RSV can live on surfaces and on hands and clothing, and is easily spread when a person touches something contaminated. Dr. Talley suggests using proper hand washing, with soap and water, to prevent the spread of RSV and other illness.
“Wash your hands thoroughly or use alcohol based hand sanitizer after caring for your child and other children,” says Dr. Talley.
He also suggests if your child is ill, to keep them home and away from other children. In addition he recommends covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and washing toys between each use.
Because it is highly contagious, almost all children will become infected with RSV by the age of two years. Since RSV has symptoms similar to the common cold, parents are sometimes not sure when to seek medical attention.
“For most healthy infants without a heart or lung condition, RSV is similar to the common cold and can be treated with at-home symptom treatments to make your child more comfortable,” says Dr. Talley.
At-home treatments can include, keeping your child hydrated, saline nasal drops, and a humidifier. If your child has a fever, you can give him or her acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed by your health care provider.
You should call your health care provider if your child is having trouble breathing; has poor appetite or decreased activity level, cold symptoms that become severe, or a shallow cough that continues throughout the day and night.
In most cases, RSV is diagnosed based on the child’s symptoms, and a physical exam. If needed, the provider will do a nasal swab test or chest x-ray.
Your provider will determine the specific treatment for RSV based on your child’s health. Antibiotics are not usually given for RSV infections. But if your child develops complications, such as an ear infection, your provider may prescribe an antibiotic.
Keeping children healthy and out of the health care providers’ office can be a challenge in the winter months. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Talley, please call 580-822-4404.