An Rx for RSV
This cold-like virus hits some infants hard
As a child, you probably never heard of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). But today, doctors believe RSV is the most common cause of respiratory infections in young children.
"We know that many children are infected in their first year of life and essentially all children are infected by age 2 years," says Alan H. Cohen, M.D., a pediatric lung specialist. RSV infection may be life threatening for premature infants and other high risk infants such as infants with congenital heart disease or other serious chronic illnesses in the first and sometimes second year of life. Parents can help prevent their child from getting infected with RSV with a monthly intramuscular injection of a monoclonal antibody called Synagis (Palivizumab) during the five months of RSV season.
RSV outbreaks usually hit in late fall, winter or early spring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that they have no way of predicting at the beginning of a season whether it's going to be a particularly severe season or not.
RSV usually causes mild symptoms--"often very much like a common cold, at least initially," says Dr. Cohen. Signs include a stuffy, runny nose, coughing, slight fever and sometimes wheezing. Symptoms may linger a week or two.
"There really isn't much treatment once you've been infected," says Dr. Cohen. Ask your pediatrician about fluids, rest and medication to reduce fever or pain.
But sometimes an infant's first brush with RSV can cause a more severe lower respiratory infection, such as bronchiolitis--coughing, wheezing, and severe difficulty breathing that may lead to a low level of oxygen.
"Young infants tend to have smaller airways," explains Dr. Cohen, making their breathing vulnerable. But other young children also face risks, especially those born prematurely or with congenital heart or lung ailments. Doctors can give high-risk children preventive medications during the fall and winter.
How can you tell if your infant's infection is serious? If your infant is laboring for each breath--nostrils flaring, grunting, unable to drink, muscles between the ribs retracting--"that's a child I worry about," says Dr. Cohen. He suggests emergency medical attention.
Heading off RSV
You can help limit RSV. "It's spread basically by close contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces," says Dr. Cohen, particularly in group settings like day care. To avoid infection:
Wash hands often.
Use tissues on runny noses (they're more sanitary than handkerchiefs).
Don't share cups or utensils with your child or between children.
Avoid crowded places during RSV season.
Don't take an child less than one year out during the RSV season.