RSV has once again arrived early in the local community.
“We began to see cases of RSV in November at Baystate Children’s Hospital, with many children testing positive for the disease and a number of whom have required hospitalization,” said Dr. J. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Division.
But there is no reason to be overly concerned, noted the Baystate pediatrician, though parents should be aware of the disease and its symptoms so your family can be adequately protected.
ONLY MINOR SYMPTOMS FOR SOME
“Most children will have only minor symptoms and only a small percentage of youngsters develop severe disease and require hospitalization. Those hospitalized often have severe breathing problems or are seriously dehydrated and need IV fluids. In most cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days and complete recovery usually occurs in about 1-2 weeks,” said Dr. Klatte.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most infants have been infected by RSV by the time they reach the age of 1, and almost every child will get RSV by the time they reach the age of 2. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, a disease of the lower respiratory tract that can cause children to wheeze, and of viral pneumonia in this age group. But it’s not just the young ages that are affected. RSV can also infect older children, teenagers and adults.
Many of the first symptoms of RSV infection are similar to the common cold and can even mimic the flu, including:
- Runny nose or nasal congestion
- Reduced appetite
WHEN TO SEE THE DOCTOR
Low-grade fevers (such as to 101°F - 102°F) are common with RSV infections, and may come and go for a few days. If a child is having increased difficulty with breathing (such as wheezing, grunting, or ongoing flaring of the nostrils) along with a runny nose and cough, then Dr. Klatte said it’s a good idea to visit your pediatrician.
Those who have a higher risk for severe illness caused by RSV include:
- Premature babies
- Adults 65 years and older, 177,000 of whom are hospitalized and 14,000 of them die each year in the U.S.
- People with chronic lung disease or certain heart problems
- People with weakened immune systems, such as from HIV infection, organ transplants, or specific medical treatments like chemotherapy.
There is no specific treatment for RSV or vaccine to prevent the virus.
MANAGING THE SYMPTOMS
“It’s all about symptom management...making sure your child is hydrated, his or her fever is under control, and that they’re not having any trouble breathing,” said Dr. Klatte.
The severity of the symptoms can vary depending on the age of the child, and whether he or she has any chronic medical problems, such as asthma or premature birth. Bacterial infections such as ear infections and pneumonia may develop in children with RSV infection.
Children under the age of 1 year are most frequently affected by the serious symptoms of RSV. It can spread directly from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes sending virus-containing droplets into the air, where they can infect a person who inhales them, as well as by hand-to-nose, hand-to-mouth, and hand-to-eye contact. The virus can be spread indirectly when someone touches any object infected with the virus, such as toys, countertops, doorknobs, or pens, and can live on environmental surfaces for several hours.
PREVENTING THE SPREAD
Dr. Klatte and the CDC recommend the following steps to help prevent the spread of the highly-contagious RSV:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Keep your hands off your face; germs can spread by touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with sick people, as well as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils with others.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
Some parents, as part of a new trend to further protect their babies, are going as far as to place signs on their car seat and stroller asking someone to not touch their new infant. Available on many online stores including Etsy and Amazon, a typical sign might read: “Stop! I know I’m cute as can be but please do not touch little me. Thank you!” or “Wash Hands & No Kissing Please – Your Germs Are Too Big for Me.
“The good news is that most infants and children overcome RSV infections without any long-term complications,” said Dr. Klatte, as RSV infections can often be relatively asymptomatic and even go unnoticed.