Author: Lori Wells, Clinical Pharmacist
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that can cause an infection in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the mouth, nose and throat, and the lungs. In healthy older children and adults, RSV usually only causes mild disease with symptoms similar to a cold. In infants and those with underlying medical problems, it can be much more severe. RSV is more common during the cold and flu season, although it can occur at any time. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), in the United States, an average of 2.1 million kids under the age of five receive outpatient medical treatment for RSV each year. In this same population, RSV causes an average of 57,527 hospitalizations each year.
New parents and medical professionals warn people to avoid kissing babies and to practice other protective measures to help prevent the spread of this highly contagious and potentially serious illness. Learn more about this respiratory infection and how you can protect your baby from RSV this winter.
Initial signs of RSV, in both mild and severe forms of the illness, may include nasal congestion, runny nose, cough and fever. Mild cases or low-risk patients are usually diagnosed after a physical exam. In severe cases or in high-risk patients, other tests may be performed to help diagnose complications and guide treatment. The Mayo Clinic offers more information about RSV symptoms. After the initial onset of symptoms, the infection usually lasts three to seven days but recovery time can vary. The American Lung Association offers more information about what you can expect.
Who is at Risk for RSV
Most young children get RSV sometime in their first two years. While this virus is very common, it can be very serious. Those at risk for severe or life-threatening RSV infections include premature infants, children who have an underlying health condition (like congenital heart disease or lung disease) and adults and children with weakened immune systems. Older adults and adults with asthma, congestive heart failure or COPD are also at increased risk for severe or life-threatening RSV infection.
An RSV infection is highly contagious, which means it can easily spread through daycare centers and between family members. Even if adults don’t have any symptoms, they may be infected with the virus. RSV is spread through respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can live for hours on hard surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs and toys. Parents, grandparents, siblings and caregivers can accidentally transfer the virus. Parents with young children should teach them not to come in close contact with a baby’s face.
Protecting Your Baby from RSV
There are many ways to protect the babies in your life from contracting RSV. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends washing your hands before touching babies and their toys. Don’t kiss babies, especially around their face. Clean your baby’s toys often and avoid large crowds. Currently, there is no vaccination to protect against RSV. However, keeping up to date on recommended vaccinations will help protect from other illnesses and can help keep immune systems strong. Never smoke around your children, including electronic cigarettes. Smoke exposure increases the risk of your child developing RSV.
RSV is not treated with antibiotics. In mild cases, children with an RSV infection might not need medical treatment. In serious cases of RSV, doctors may admit your baby and monitor him or her closely. Treatment may include oxygen, fluids and medications to help open the airways. If your child has a high-risk of developing RSV, ask your doctor or pharmacist at Amber Pharmacy about a medication that can prevent a severe RSV infection. The pharmacists on Amber Pharmacy’s Respiratory Center of Excellence have the clinical expertise necessary to provide exceptional support for you and your child.