Respiratory Syncytial Virus
syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that can affect individuals of all
ages. It’s more common among children and infants than it is among adults. For
adults and healthy children, RSV causes symptoms similar to those of a cold. In
infants, however, RSV can be more serious.
most of the time the infection causes no serious damage, it can lead to other
serious lung complications.
is the most common virus that causes infections of the lungs and airways in
infants and small children. Data gathered by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention show that each year in the United States, between
75,000 and 125,000 children under the age of 1 are hospitalized with RSV.
to the March of Dimes, the virus is
seasonal, and is most commonly seen from October to March.
Risk Factors for Serious
individuals are at higher risk for developing serious RSV infection. These
individuals include premature babies, individuals with weakened immune systems,
children with heart or lung disease, individuals living in crowded conditions,
and children attending day care. Adults over the age of 65 years are also at
What Are Symptoms of RSV?
on your age, symptoms of RSV can vary. They typically surface within four to
six days of infection. Older individuals have mild symptoms like congestion or
fever. Children under the age of 1 exhibit the most marked symptoms.
symptoms of RSV (for both adults and children) include:
- fast breathing or difficulty breathing
- bluish skin from oxygen deprivation
- shortness of breath
may exhibit irritability, malaise, or trouble breathing. If you see your child
showing any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
How Is RSV Diagnosed?
are several different types of laboratory tests used to diagnose RSV infection,
but the most commonly used is the rapid diagnostic test. This test looks for
RSV antigen in the nasal secretions. A nasal swab can be taken in your doctor’s
office and sent for testing. The results are usually available in less than an
hour. If a rapid test is negative, your doctor may order a virus culture of the
secretions or choose a more sensitive test that uses genetic technology to
verify the virus in the blood.
How Is RSV Treated?
RSV is a virus, it can’t be treated with medications like antibiotics. In most
cases, especially in older children, symptoms of RSV are similar to other
respiratory infections like the cold or flu. Many of these cases of RSV resolve
by themselves without treatment. Getting sufficient rest and drinking plenty of
fluids can help children recover from RSV. Also, regular suctioning of mucus
from the nose with a rubber bulb can relieve congestion in babies.
younger children, especially under the age of 1, RSV can be more severe and can
lead to bronchiolitis, which is an inflammation
of the bronchioles or small airways, and pneumonia. These patients
should be hospitalized. Treatment with intravenous fluids, oxygen, and
humidified air will be required, and in more severe cases, the use of a
ventilator may be necessary.
Complications Associated with
addition to the RSV infection advancing to bronchiolitis and pneumonia in
children, they can develop ear infections and croup, which is an inflammation and
swelling of the vocal cords, causing a loud, barking sound when coughing.
Children who develop bronchiolitis as a result of RSV may have a higher risk of
developing asthma. Most children infected with RSV, however, have few if any
complications, and the infection runs its course in one or two weeks.
Tips to Prevent RSV
is no cure for RSV, but there are ways to reduce your risk of getting and
spreading the virus. RSV is spread like other viruses — through microscopic
droplets released into the air or on surfaces. Washing your hands frequently,
covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding sharing
utensils and drinking cups can all minimize your risk of becoming infected.
smoke near your child. Cigarette smoke, even secondhand smoke, can increase the
risk of developing RSV.
is an antibody targeted specifically at the RSV virus and can be used in high-risk
infants under the age of 24 months to prevent the infection. This drug is
administered once monthly during the RSV season, October through March, by muscle
injection. It can help prevent severe infection, but can’t cure or treat
illness that has already developed.