Peak Season: Doctors seeing, treating more RSV patients

4:58 AM, Jan 28, 2019

Each year an estimated 57,527 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to Respiratory Syncytial Virus infection in the United States.

Local doctors are seeing more children with RSV.

Most people recover from RSV in a week or two. But in infants and older adults, it can be serious and sometimes deadly.

RSV is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis, or inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, which can often become more serious, especially for children under 2.

“Almost every child that is 2 years old has already been exposed to it. Now those at a higher risk are those that have prematurity, they were born premature or they are 6 months of age or less, or those children that have congenital heart disease or congenital lung disease. Or those children that have some type of immune compromise problems like chemotherapy or undergoing a transformation of an organ,” said Thomas-Spann Clinic’s Dr. George Benavidez.

The highly contagious respiratory virus is common this time of year in both children and adults, and usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

“Very typical, like the common cold, a low-grade fever, a sneeze, a cough, a sore throat, you know a little bit of irritability,” Benavidez said.

According to medical experts, most RSV infections go away in a week or two.

However, infants younger than 6 months old may need to be hospitalized if they have trouble breathing or are dehydrated.

“You should see a doctor especially if you have a young child, and that baby is having a fever, irritable, doesn’t want to feed, doesn’t want to drink, or if you begin to see that the skin is blue, the fingernail beds are blue, or you have a bluish discoloration of the lips. Those are danger signs,” Benavidez said.

The peak season for RSV is January through March, and it’s very easy to spread.

“The common way to prevent it is to wash your hands,” Benavidez said. “The other thing that happens is that the RSV spreads by air infected air droplets. So it comes into contact with your eyes, nose, and your mouth, so you keep your hands away from your mouth.

“The other way is direct contact by shaking hands, hard surfaces like tables or doorknobs. The most common way here is your telephone, cell phone, and computer keyboards. Make sure you keep those clean.”

RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. Although it can affect anyone, RSV is generally considered as the most frequent cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants and young children. Each year an estimated 57,527 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection in the United States.

What are the symptoms of an RSV infection? 

Symptoms of RSV are similar to other respiratory infections. Illness begins four to six days after being exposed to the virus. In adults and older children, typical RSV symptoms include a low-grade fever, congested or runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, and occasionally wheezing.

In children younger than age 2, RSV can cause a lower respiratory tract illness such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia; more severe cases can result in respiratory failure.

For people with severe illness, symptoms may include a worsening croupy cough, unusually rapid breathing, difficulty breathing, and a bluish color of the lips or fingernails caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood. RSV can cause middle ear infections (otitis media) in preschool children.

Symptoms of RSV infection usually include:

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday. People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days after getting infected.

How common is RSV?

RSV infections occur all over the world, most often in outbreaks that can last up to five months, from late fall through early spring. RSV epidemics spread easily in households, daycare centers, and schools.

How is RSV spread?  

The virus is found in discharges from the nose and throat of an infected person. People can get RSV infection by breathing in droplets after an infected person has coughed; by hand-to-mouth contact after touching an infected  person; and by hand-to-mouth after touching a surface that an infected person has touched or coughed on. The time period from exposure to illness is usually four to six days. After an infection, a person may be contagious for three to eight days. However, some infants and people with weakened immune systems can spread the virus for up to four weeks.

How are RSV infections diagnosed?

The diagnosis is usually made by the pattern of a child’s symptoms (a clinical diagnosis), especially if he or she has a cold and is wheezing. RSV can be confirmed by checking for the virus in nasopharyngeal specimens or by growing the virus from nasal swabs, nasal washes, or tracheal secretions.

How are RSV infections treated?  

Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two. You can manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines, since some medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).

Healthy infants and adults infected with RSV do not usually need to be hospitalized. But some people with RSV infection, especially infants younger than six months of age and older adults, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. In most of these cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent RSV infection. Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines. Because RSV infection is often resolved on its own, treatment of mild symptoms is not necessary for most people. For babies and children who are at high risk of developing severe RSV, preventive medication is available.

Parents of an infant who is premature, has a chronic lung or heart condition, or has a weak immune system should contact their doctor or healthcare provider. Antibiotics are not useful in the treatment of RSV or any other viral disease.

What do I do if I think anyone in my family has RSV? 

Consult with your healthcare provider. Any breathing difficulties in an infant should be considered an emergency, so seek immediate help.

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