Now that school is back in session and the winter months are ahead of us, it is important for parents of young children and babies to be informed about a potentially deadly virus called Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This virus is spread much like the common cold through droplets from sneezing or coughing, on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs and through contact with hands or clothes of an infected individual. It is spread very easily through schools and day care centers and older children can bring the virus home and infected younger siblings.
Adults can get RSV and the symptoms are very much like the common cold with stuffy/runny nose, coughing, sore throat, fever and malaise. However this virus can be deadly to infants and younger children causing severe respiratory symptoms and can impair the immune system leading to more serious illnesses such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
Your Pediatrician can diagnose your child by doing a general physical examination and they may do a nasal wash to test for the virus. This test is easily done by collecting nasal secretions with a cotton swab or bulb syringe and is tolerated well. Since this is a virus, the treatment is generally focused on the symptoms such as medications for cough, congestion or fever. Usually the illness only lasts about a week for children with healthy immune systems. Children who are medically fragile or have underlying lung, heart or immune disease may have a longer and more aggressive course of treatment and may require hospitalization.
Prevention is key! Good hand washing for all family members is the number one way to stop the spread of this disease. Teach younger children how to properly wash their hands or use alcohol based hand sanitizer. Limit visitors to infants during the most dangerous months and make sure that everyone who visits washes their hands or uses alcohol based hand sanitizer. Do not let actively ill people handle or be around infants.
There is an injection called Synagis that parents may opt to give high risk infants during the winter months. This is not a vaccine but an injection of antibodies to help prevent serious RSV disease in babies. Synagis is only approved for high risk babies meaning there is already an underlying reason RSV would be more severe in your child such as prematurity. Ask you Pediatrician if your child is a candidate for Synagis injections this winter.