RSV is a common respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages, usually causing flu or cold-like symptoms. Although most otherwise healthy people recover from RSV infection in one to two weeks, it can lead to serious health problems for young children and older adults.
In fact, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age. About 57,000 children are hospitalized every year due to RSV, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).
How do you get RSV?
RSV is highly contagious and spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending respiratory droplets into the air. These droplets contain RSV and can end up in other people's mouths or noses, causing an infection. The droplets also can land on objects that people touch, such as toys or counter tops. People can get infected by touching these objects and then touching their mouths or noses. Children often pass the virus to one another at their school or daycare center.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections: cough, sneezing, runny nose, fever and decreased appetite. Wheezing also may occur. In very young infants, however, irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection.
Most otherwise healthy infants infected with RSV do not need to be hospitalized and will recover in one to two weeks. Even among those who need to be hospitalized, hospitalization usually lasts just a few days, and recovery from illness usually occurs in about one to two weeks.
While there is no vaccine to prevent RSV, there are simple ways you can protect your child or yourself from getting this highly contagious virus.
* Wash hands often with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds.
* Cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
* Limit contact with those who have cold-like symptoms.
* Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others.
Seeking medical attention
If a child is otherwise healthy, there is really no need to obtain a formal RSV diagnosis. The condition will generally run its course without specific medical treatment. Because it is a virus, antibiotics are not used to treat RSV.
If your child is at higher risk as a premature infant or because of other medical conditions, then a doctor can diagnose RSV by taking a swab of nasal fluids. For high-risk children, a medication called palivizumab can help prevent serious complications of an RSV infection. Ask your primary care physician or pediatrician if your child would be a good candidate for the drug.
If you think that you or your child might have an RSV infection that requires medical care, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or pediatrician. Such visits are common for young children. The provider will evaluate the severity of the illness and decide how best to treat it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Glenn J. Trippe is Board Certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and has been a practicing pediatrician since 1979. Dr. Trippe established New Beginnings Pediatrics in 1992. He is a Fellow of American Academy of Pediatrics. New Beginnings Pediatrics has offices in Norwalk (419-668-9409) on the Fisher-Titus Campus and in Bellevue at 1400 W. Main St. (419-483-4122).