RSV is an extremely contagious virus that infects the respiratory tract of nearly all children. You might have thought it was the common cold or that cough that was going around daycare over the winter months. With a little Tylenol, the fever and cough were gone and your child was back to playing. Unfortunately, RSV can affect the lungs more severely in some children, causing bronchiolitis or pneumonia, both of which can become life-threatening.
What causes some children to have RSV and never miss a beat and others to end up in the hospital? Children that have a higher chance of becoming severely ill from RSV are those who are younger and have chronic health conditions. More specifically, children who are less than two months old, were born premature, have chronic lung disease, heart disease, or a weakened immune system are at highest risk.
Most children are infected with the virus during the months of December through March through contact with other children or from surfaces contaminated with the virus. RSV will typically go away quickly on its own in two to four days. Symptoms are usually mild and include fever, runny nose and congestion that can be managed at home. But, you should head to a medical provider right away if your child has trouble breathing, has a cough with yellow, green or gray mucous, is inactive or very tired, has decreased breast or bottle feeding, or appears dehydrated (not making wet diapers or not crying with tears).
Although a test for RSV is not necessary to tell if your child has the virus, many pediatricians and urgent care centers can do rapid RSV tests with nose secretions. When a child tests positive for RSV, there is no one treatment for the illness. Using a bulb syringe, humidifier and increasing your child’s fluids will all help with the symptoms of RSV. Many treatments that are used for other illnesses, such as inhalers, steroids, antibiotics, and epinephrine have not been shown to help in RSV.
The best way to prevent your household from catching RSV is good hygiene with lots of hand-washing and household disinfecting. It is also wise to try to avoiding large crowds and others who are sick, particularly in the winter months.
In certain babies, particularly those who were premature or have heart or lung diseases, a doctor might suggest a monthly shot (palivizumab) that can protect high-risk babies from serious effects of RSV during the peak RSV season.