Respiratory syncytial virus or RSV is a common condition that can affect children before the age of 3. Read the HealthHearty article to learn more about what causes RSV in infants, its symptoms, treatment, and some preventive measures.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.
RSV is an airborne virus that causes infection in the lower respiratory tract. Just like a common cold, this lung virus is the most common cause of bronchitis (inflammation of lower airways) and pneumonia in infants and young children. The symptoms usually appear during the winter and spring seasons. Even though RSV is highly contagious, it can be controlled if proper care is taken. For premature infants and high risk babies/children, it can turn life-threatening. Which is why it is important to know what causes RSV and watch out for its symptoms.
Contracting the infection is easy, typically via physical contact like shaking hands, kissing, and coming in contact with an infected person. Since the infection is contagious, it can easily spread from one person to another. The germs can survive on your hands for 30 minutes or more, up to 5 hours on countertops, and for several hours on used tissue papers. Since there are different types of RSV, a human body can never be immunized to this virus. A person who has suffered from RSV in his/her childhood can contract the infection over and over again for the rest of his/her life (oftentimes during the same season). And children who are more susceptible to developing a serious case are:
- Multiple births
- Infants with lung and/or heart issues
- Infants with weaker immune system
- Family history of asthma
- Premature infants born 4 weeks prior to the expected delivery date
- Infants younger than 1 year; especially between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months
- Infants born with low birth weight; typically below 5½ lbs
- Infants who have siblings who go to schools or daycare centers
- Infants exposed to cigarette smoke and/or air pollution
- Continuous cough and fever
- Breathing problems
- Flared nasal area
- Quick breathing or tachypnea
- Shortness of breath
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Skin color turning bluish due to lack of oxygen; cyanosis
- Abdominal muscles getting contracted during breathing
Usually the symptoms can also resemble other medical issues or conditions as well. Hence, consult your baby’s physician to get a diagnosis as soon as any of the above mentioned symptoms occur.
In mild cases, many physicians don’t prescribe any antiviral drugs. But in more serious cases, the infection has to be treated under medical attention, and the child may be incubated. The incubation period can last for about 4-6 days, and the infection can last for a week or even more.
Depending on your child’s age, health, medical history, extent of the infection, and tolerance of medications, only your baby’s physician can choose the correct treatment method. Typically the treatment methods may include:
- Administration of bronchodilator medication via an inhaler to open the airways
- Administration of additional oxygen via mask, oxygen tent, or nasal prongs
- Proper fluid hydration by mouth or IV line
- Administration of antiviral medication for high-risk infants
- Mechanical respirator to help the child breathe properly
- Infants who are infected should stay at home till the incubation period is over.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly after you’ve touched someone who has a cold.
- Keep your child away from those who are suffering from a cold.
- Avoid overpopulated areas and common places like restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes inside the house and near the baby.
Till recent times, there wasn’t a vaccination available to prevent RSV. However, now there is and since it is very expensive, it is only limited to infants who have severe infection. Through regular vaccine administration, RSV in infants can be controlled before it turns into a life-threatening disease. Consult with the physician for additional information about the vaccine.