One important health truth every parent should know this winter: Bronchiolitis is a pediatric-centered virus that is anything but child’s play. And bronchiolitis is targeting America’s children this flu season.
A extremely and easily contagious viral based-infection that impacts young children, mostly under the age of 2, bronchiolitis is a swelling and mucus buildup within the smallest lung air passages. This makes it very difficult for children to breathe. Bronchiolitis peaks in the fall and winter and is most commonly caused by a viral infection. The virus is spread from person to person when coming in direct contact with nose and throat fluids of someone carrying the virus. Over 90,000 American children are hospitalized with bronchiolitis each year. The virus claims an alarming 4,500 people annually. The virus peaks from October to February in the United States.
Like the flu, the Centers For Disease Control recommend frequent hand washing as the easiest and most proven means of preventing the spread of the illness.
Parents can keep their infants and toddlers breathing easy and safe at home by disinfecting counter tops, door knobs and other frequently touched surfaces often, and learning about the virus’ roots, symptoms and best treatments.
Roots Of A Serious Threat
Toddlers may be years away from being able to say or pronounce bronchiolitis, but they can all too easily catch it as they explore their exciting new worlds. The virus is worldwide and most common in boys, affecting boys at a rate of 1.5 times the number of girls who contract the disease. Despite dedicated efforts by the World Health Organization, a bronchiolitis vaccine has yet to be developed.
Bronchiolitis itself is a spinoff disease of a virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The National Institutes of Health report that nearly half of all infants are exposed to RSV by their first birthday. Other viruses that are sources for bronchiolitis include rhinovirus, parainfluenza, influenza A and adenovirus.
Children who attend highly populated daycare centers and those who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke face a greatly increased risk of contracting bronchiolitis.
These viruses morph into bronchiolitis through two of influenza’s favorite transmission routes: Sneezes or coughs. RSV stays alive on surfaces like toys and bottles for long periods of time. When children touch these infected surfaces, they easily pick up the virus. Thankfully, in many cases, children infected with RSV get just bad colds and do not experience the symptoms of bronchiolitis.
The ‘Bronch’ Symptoms
The symptoms of bronchiolitis begin innocent enough: Running noses, mild coughs and low fevers. But the infection often worsens, leading children’s coughs to intensify and breathing to become difficult. Children with bronchiolitis may experience rapid breathing and begin to wheeze.
Kids with the virus often do not eat or sleep well becomes of these symptoms. Nostrils may flare (opening wide when children breathe) and chest skin may retract (appearing as if it is caving in) with each breath intake. In severe cases, children require extra oxygen and inhaled medications. If children do not get enough oxygen, cyanosis may develop.
Children with bronchiolitis are more likely to develop asthma later in childhood.
Children with compromised immune systems and transplant patients are at highest risk for severe infections, serious complications and death. For extremely severe bronchiolitis infections, doctors sometimes treat them with ribvarin (Virazole), a highly potent drug that keeps the virus from reproducing.
A Treatable Threat
Most children with bronchiolitis can be treated at home. Some of physicians’ top home care bronchiolitis measures include:
- Drinking lots of fluids
- Having a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier in children’s bedrooms to ease breathing
- Over-the-counter pain and fever medications like acetaminophen
- Rubber bulbs and saltwater nose drops
Most importantly: Keep children sick with bronchiolitis home from school and sports activities to prevent them from spreading the virus to others
Doctors caution decongestants (medications that reduce mucus amounts) shouldn’t be used because they often produce unwanted side effects in very young children.
With treatment, bronchiolitis usually lasts a week. For serious and lingering cases, consult a physician for the best course of treatment.
The Bronchiolitis Defenses
Keeping your kids free from the roots of a virus that spreads like wildfire in winter is next to impossible. But by teaching children the importance of good hand hygiene, and especially frequent hand washing, parents can lengthen the odds of RSV reaching their young children.
Effective hand hygiene products like Aterra Hand Soap and Aterra Hand and Surface Wipes can help parents keep their homes bronchiolitis-free zones. And by knowing the root causes of bronchiolitis and the best preventive measures, parents can keep their kids breathing easy and bronchiolitis free this winter.