Do I need to be concerned about RSV?
A friend had recently texted me about Respiratory Syncytial Virus, known as RSV. Her message said that lately everyone on social media had been posting about it and she was concerned about it for her young daughter. Three kids later and a couple experiences with RSV and here’s what I know about it.
According to CDC.gov, “Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age.”
RSV usually spikes in the winter, but the CDC made news headlines last month after they issued an advisory saying they are seeing a large uptick in RSV spreading in the southern states. Due to pandemic precautions and social distancing, doctors did not see the typical spike in RSV last winter. Now as more people get back out, RSV is now surging even in the summer months.
RSV spreads just like a common-cold virus, from person to person. It enters the body through the nose, eyes, or mouth. RSV can survive up to six hours on hard surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs. It also can survive 30 minutes or more on hands, so as always, wash those hands!
Symptoms of RSV are similar to that of a bad cold and include: runny nose, sneezing, fever, coughing, wheezing and/ or a decrease in appetite. Symptoms usually spear in stages and not all at once. RSV can present a bit differently in younger infants with the only symptoms being irritability, decrease in activity and breathing difficulties. Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two. There is no specific treatment for RSV. Supportive care will often relieve symptoms. You can manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Make sure your child is drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration. You should monitor for breathing problems especially in very young infants (under 1 year old) and in older adults. Listen for noisy breathing, grunting and wheezing. Be aware of long pauses in baby’s breathing (apnea). Look for retractions of the chest wall that occur when a baby uses muscles between the ribs or in the neck to breathe. These are signs that baby has to work harder than normal to breathe and you should contact your pediatrician promptly or go to the Emergency Department. There is a medicine called Synagis for RSV, but this is only given to premature infants (those born under 35 weeks of gestation) or children with chronic heart or lung conditions.
Healthy adults and infants infected with RSV do not usually need to be hospitalized. However some people with RSV infection, especially older adults and infants younger than 6 months of age, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. Most RSV infections are mild and can be managed at home.
Remember, that while RSV can be serious, almost all children will have had an RSV infection by the time they reach their second birthday and you may not have even known they had it. So yes, you do need to be vigilant about RSV, just not panicked, regardless of what social media may say today. When in doubt about a specific illness, it’s always best to consult your pediatrician for advice.
As we head back to school and into the fall season soon, remember to keep those little ones home when sick and wash your hands. Stay healthy Hammonton.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.