RSV In Infants

RSV is usually a mild illness. However, it can cause life-threatening complications resulting in severe illness or even death.

WHAT IS RSV AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

RSV-or respiratory syncytial virus-is so common that it strikes virtually every child by the time they are three years old. Most of the time, it is indistinguishable from the common cold. It causes a mild respiratory infection marked by a stuffy nose, discharge, a cough and sometimes a mild ear infection. Usually, it is self-limiting and is over in a week to ten days.

IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE A BIG DEAL. WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED?

It is true that most children handle their bout of RSV without any difficulties. However, more than 125,000 children under the age of one are hospitalized every year because of complications from the RSV infection. Some of these children--most of them babies under six months of age--will die.

WHO IS AT RISK FROM RSV?

At greatest risk are newborns and infants, particularly those who were born prematurely or who have a compromised immune system. Also prone to hospitalization are children who have underlying heart and lung problems.



HOW WILL I KNOW IF AN RSV INFECTION IS SERIOUS?

Remember, RSV usually causes cold-like symptoms. However, if your child suddenly appears more tired, listless and is coughing more frequently, he or she might be exhibiting an RSV complication. Watch your baby and be alert to any changes. Rapid breathing and wheezing are symptoms that do require a doctor's immediate attention.

HOW DO THEY TREAT RSV?

Uncomplicated cases of RSV require no treatment. But if your child is hospitalized, every effort will be made to make him or her more comfortable. This will mean Tylenol or Motrin to control fever and antibiotics if an accompanying ear infection needs to be treated. Medications to help breathing will also be given. More than likely, these will be provided in mist or aerosol form. Your baby's doctor many also choose to administer Virazole, a specific antiviral drug often used to treat RSV. This will depend on the severity of the symptoms.

HOW CAN I PREVENT RSV?

RSV occurs mainly in the winter months, and the out-breaks are sudden. Because it is so widespread, it isn't feasible or even advisable to attempt to prevent the normal child's exposure to this virus. The exceptions, of course, are people with compromised immunity, very young infants and the premature baby(up to age two). In the latter cases, precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of RSV from the infected individual to the baby or child. This is best done with frequent hand washing and preventing the spread of infectious secretions on tissues and objects.

ISN'T THERE A VACCINE FOR RSV

Yes, there is. A new drug called palivizumab recently became available. Palivizumab is a monoclonal antibody produced by recombinant DNA technology. It is given as a series of monthly intramuscular injections beginning in the fall and continuing for approximately five months. This is a very effective antibody, but it's extremely expensive. Because of this, its use will be limited to those infants who are at the greatest risk.

ARE THERE ANY LONG-TERM EFFECTS FROM RSV?

While most kids will recover and do just fine, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that those children who suffered from severe RSV complications may have a greater risk of future respiratory illnesses--particularly asthma.

FINAL WORDS

RSV is only one of many viruses that strike during the fall and winter months. While it can be serious, usually it's not. Do be cautious, but not overly fearful. If you have reasons to be concerned, or if your child belongs to a high-risk group, talk to your doctor about it.

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