Parents Beware: Don't Forget About RSV
By David Lozano, MD, Pediatric Pulmonologist - Dothan Pediatric Clinic
Keep a close eye on your infant or child if he/she develops what seems to be a simple cold. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that seems to have been forgotten because of COVID-19.
Some of the most common COVID-19 symptoms mimic RSV: fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, and fatigue. RSV is the most common cause of severe lower respiratory tract disease among infants and children under age 2 and is especially serious for infants under 6 months, premature babies, and children with immune system deficiencies or underlying heart or lung disease. RSV can lead to hospitalization or even become life-threatening.
In Alabama, RSV season runs October-April, and we have seen a spike in cases since the start of spring. RSV is highly contagious, entering the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth via secretions from a cough or sneeze. An infected child is most contagious during the first 72 hours after infection.
RSV usually causes mild symptoms like cough, runny nose, sore throat, and fever. However, it can progress to high fever, wheezing, severe cough, rapid breathing, and decreased oxygen levels. In these cases, the infant or child may have developed bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
Infant symptoms are harder to predict. Rapid breathing and cough are common in infants, but some will show no respiratory signs and simply have decreased appetite, irritability, and low energy. Thick nasal secretions with RSV can make it difficult for infants to eat and breathe. Parents should take the infant or child to the doctor if he/she struggles to breathe or cannot take fluids.
RSV is diagnosed with a nasal swab, with results typically available within minutes. There is no specific treatment and antibiotics are generally not needed. Tylenol or Motrin help ease symptoms along with plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
There is a vaccine for RSV, Synagis, which works by providing antibodies and is administered monthly during peak months of RSV season. Infants and children under 2 who are premature or have underlying heart/lung conditions are candidates for the vaccine, which is almost always covered by insurance. A child who receives Synagis may still get RSV, but it may be more of a mild case with hospitalization avoided.
Many prevention measures for RSV are simple:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially if you are taking care of an infant.
- Keep surfaces clean.
- Limit exposure to tobacco and other smoke.
- Limit contact with people who are sick, and wash toys regularly.
Parents, do not forget about RSV while so many of us are focused on COVID-19.