RSV Facts and Prevention

crying baby

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that, as its name suggests, attacks the respiratory tract. This is a very contagious virus that gets everywhere. Essentially all children have caught it by the age of 2. It is unusual in that being sick with it does not give you significant immunity. Most adults catch it a second time.

RSV, as a virus, cannot be treated with regular antibiotics.

It is more important to know about RSV if you have small children. Whereas in older children and adults RSV behaves more like a common cold, little children can get very sick with symptoms in the lower respiratory tract. While they often still have nasal mucous, they will also have a fever and symptoms from irritation and swelling in airways. RSV irritates the trachea or windpipe, bronchi, and bronchioles, which are progressively smaller airways. This causes cough, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. RSV can cause pneumonia, which means the parts of the lungs are filled with infectious fluid.

Although most children, even the youngest ones, will recover within one to two weeks, there are children who will become very sick with RSV. Often the sickest children have other medical problems. They need to be hospitalized because there is treatment that can help.

Some important facts about RSV:

  • RSV infections occur mainly in winter and spring, sometimes late fall, and almost never summer. There are usually local epidemics that last about five months.
  • RSV is very contagious. It can spread through a family, a classroom or school, or a pediatric ward very quickly.
  • Infants and young children with RSV often develop what is called bronchiolitis – this is the form of the illness with wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
  • Doctors can make the diagnosis of RSV in a young child with typical symptoms during the right time of year, especially if there is an outbreak underway in your community.
  • Definitive diagnosis can be made from nasal mucous obtained by suction or swab.
  • A chest x-ray can tell the doctor if your child has pneumonia, but not what caused it.
  • RSV, as a virus, cannot be treated with regular antibiotics
  • Secondary bacterial infections can occur, such as ear infections or sinus infections. Those can be treated with antibiotics.

{ MORE: Fall-Themed Names for Your Autumn Baby }

When is hospitalization necessary, and what can they do in the hospital?

  • If your child is having trouble breathing, he or she needs to be in the hospital. You may see rapid shallow breaths, wheezing, noisy breathing, or struggling for breath.
  • Your child may not be able to eat or drink because of the trouble breathing. If your child cannot eat or drink and is not wetting his or her diapers, hospitalization will probably be necessary.
  • If your baby has any other health problems, like congenital heart disease, or was born prematurely, or is being treated for cancer, hospitalization will almost certainly be needed.
  • They will give your child oxygen as well as medicine somewhat like asthma treatment to open his or her airways.
  • Fluid and calories can be given by vein. Suctioning of the mucous in the nose and trachea will be done.
  • An antiviral agent can be given by mist to very sick children. Humidity is also helpful.

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RSV Facts and Prevention

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12 comments

  1. Barbieann88 says:

    My son had RSV at 3 months. We did steam showers and were constantly cleaning is nose. He had to sleep in his swing at night so he could breathe. Not a fun sickness but at least we kept him out of the hospital!

  2. Amy says:

    This is a good article but scary to know you cannot prevent it

  3. Sara says:

    This really scares me, my son was born in the middle of RSV season :/

  4. Grace says:

    anybody have had a child with this? what was it like

  5. ChrisS says:

    I’m glad to hear your son is doing well 🙂

  6. ChrisS says:

    The is a great article. Good to know.
    My baby is 3 months, so far he’s breathing well. I hope he won’t get this problem.

  7. Angela says:

    My baby was okay and didn’t get this. Thank God.

  8. My son got this and the hospital didn’t catch it the first time I took him. Four days later he was on a ventilater he didn’t breath on his own again for 12 days. He was only 6 weeks old. He’s 4 months old now and doing much better. Thanks to Dayton Children’s Medical Center

  9. i’m sooooo worried about this with my son. thanks for the tips!!

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