Speaking of health – Respiratory Syncytial Virus

By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC

For the past few weeks, we have been focusing on childhood diseases.  This column will explore the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants and young children, RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.  Statistics show that 50% of children are infected by their first birthday, and reinfection common in preschool children.

Those at the greatest risk of contracting RSV are children less than one year old, especially those between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months.  Preemies, or those born with immune problems are also more at risk for the disease.

Spread of the virus is through hand to mouth contact, and air droplets, so spread can be minimized by strict hand washing and avoiding contact with infected individuals.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for are nasal discharge, cough and fever, with the cough progressing over one to two days.  There may also be an increase in the breathing rate sometimes reaching 60 breaths per minute. The child may appear lethargic and have difficulty catching his/her breath to the point that the child may look cyanotic or blue.  Another complication with RSV is dehydration because of decreased oral intake.  Parents should monitor their child’s urine output by counting the number of times they have to change a diaper.  If there are fewer diapers, there is a good possibility that the child is dehydrated.

Diagnosis of RSV is done by clinical presentation as well as taking a swab to check for the virus.  Occasionally, if there is concern for possible pneumonia, the clinician will order chest x-rays.  Treatment of RSV is usually supportive and antibiotics are not indicated since the condition is usually self-limited and resolves within 7 days, although RSV may last as long as 2 to 3 weeks.  Fever usually resolves within 48 hours with improvement from most symptoms in 2 to 5 days.