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RSV: Spring’s Pesky Viral Infection

If only respiratory viruses had an off season.

Alas, even the healthiest kids and families who survived the flu season unscathed have to be aware and on alert for the viral infections of spring. The changing of the seasons ushers in a new flock of unpleasant viruses into the mainstream, including many which take direct aim at infants and young children.

Of the most common viral springtime ailments is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which can strike people of all ages. RSV produces mild cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children, but is much more serious in young babies. RSV is the most common germ causing lung and airway infections in infants and young children. It is most prevalent in the fall and spring.

The virus transfers through tiny droplets that float into the air when a sick person blows their nose, coughs or sneezes.

RSV is transmitted though:

  • You touch, kiss, or shake hands with someone who is infected by the virus.
  • You touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus, such as a toy or doorknob.

RSV spreads like wildfire in crowded households with multiple young children and day care centers. The virus can live for a half hour or more on hands, up to five hours on countertops, and for several hours on used tissues.

“What makes it so dangerous is its ability to quickly spread down from the nose and throat into the lower respiratory tract, where it infects and causes inflammation in the tissues of the lungs (causing pneumonia) and the tiny bronchial air tubes (causing bronchiolitis),” Dr. Purvi Parikh of the Allergy & Asthma Network wrote for U.S. News & World Report’s website.

The really bumming news: There is no medical cure for RSV. In most cases, sufferers are forced to battle their way through it.

RSV’s Main Target: Infants

Symptoms of RSV are never fun and usually do not appear until 4-6 days after making contact with the virus. Symptoms are usually mild for school-age children and include coughing, stuffy noses and low-grade fevers. But for infants, symptoms can be more serious, including difficulty breathing. Antibiotics don’t treat RSV but mild infections work through the immune system without treatment.

It’s infants suffering from RSV that parents need to be most concerned with. Infants and children with severe RSV infections may be admitted to the hospital.

RSV can be especially brutal on at-risk young children, also leading to bronchiolitis, croup, ear infections, lung failure and asthma. The most severe RSV infections can cause death in infants if detected late.

“The infection sends more babies to the hospital than any other condition,” Parikh wrote.

Treatment for serious infections include:

  • Oxygen
  • Humidified (moist) air)
  • Fluids
  • A Breathing Machine in serious cases

Outlook (Prognosis)

Infants facing the most severe RSV disease risks include:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants with chronic lung disease
  • Infants whose immune system does not work well
  • Infants with certain forms of heart disease

The RSV Prevention Plan: Cleans Hands Equal A Healthy Family

This is math even a toddler can master. The key to preventing RSV is as simple as washing your hands often, especially before touching babies. It is important to make certain other members of your family and caregivers exercise good hand hygiene before touching your baby.

Other essential steps families with babies should take to ensure their babies don’t come down with RSV include:

  • Have others avoid contact with the baby if they have a cold or fever. If necessary, have them wear a mask.
  • Be aware that kissing the baby can spread RSV infection.
  • Try to keep young children away from your baby. RSV is very common among young children and easily spreads from child to child.
  • Do not smoke inside your house, car, or anywhere near your baby. Exposure to tobacco smoke increases the risk of RSV illness.
  • Wash and disinfect toys, tabletops, doorknobs and other shared surfaces.
  • Avoid sharing cups, eating utensils or food.
  • Avoid people with obvious cold symptoms.

Parents of high-risk young infants should avoid crowds during severe RSV outbreaks. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug Synagis (palivizumab) for the prevention of RSV in children younger than 24 months who are at high risk for serious RSV disease. Consult your doctor if your child should receive this medicine.

RSV is a seriously bumming spring viral infection threat, but with proper RSV prevention measures and clean hands, families can dodge RSV, stay on their feet, and spring forward to the funniest time of the year.

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