shutterstock_1723848115_2jo0GfW..jpeg (shutterstock_1723848115.webp)Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. However, it can be severe, particularly for infants and young children. In fact, the CDC notes that it's the leading cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than the age of one. Early detection and effective management are of utmost importance to prevent severe complications.

At Capital Area Pediatrics, we are committed to your child's health and well-being. We provide comprehensive pediatric care, including advice on prevention as well as the diagnosis and treatment of RSV. Our dedicated team of healthcare professionals is here to guide you through the process, offering compassionate care tailored to your child's unique needs.

Now, let's delve deeper into understanding RSV - its symptoms, how it spreads, and most importantly, how we can prevent it. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be better equipped to protect your little one from this common but potentially serious virus.

What is RSV?

RSV is a type of contagious virus that infects the respiratory tract, leading to illnesses ranging from mild colds to serious conditions like pneumonia. During the RSV season, which typically happens between October and April but peaks in December or January, the virus can spread rapidly and cause severe illness in young children and infants. RSV can be spread in numerous ways, from airborne droplets from a cough or sneeze to direct contact with an infected person or surface.

Like other viruses, RSV is a microscopic organism that needs a host to survive. It invades the cells of its host—in this case, the cells in our respiratory tract—and uses the host's cellular machinery to multiply and spread. RSV causes significant airway inflammation, often with abundant mucus, especially in the small airways of the lungs.

Some common RSV symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Coughing, sneezing, and wheezing
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble breathing

Children under the age of 1 year or children with chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, or a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of severe RSV disease, which could lead to hospitalization. In medically complex children, RSV infections can exacerbate their existing health conditions and lead to life-threatening complications. Though RSV is one of many respiratory viruses, its ability to cause severe respiratory illness in young children sets it apart.

How Does RSV Affect Infants and Young Children?

Because of the significant airway inflammation, young children’s smaller airways can get more affected than an older child or adult. In particular, infants with the smallest airways frequently have the most difficulty with RSV.

Very young infants under age 6 months may experience severe symptoms and complications from RSV. These symptoms include persistent coughing or wheezing, rapid breathing or breathing difficulties, bluish skin color due to lack of oxygen, apnea (pauses in breathing > 10 seconds), extreme fatigue, and irritability. Infants may also refuse to breastfeed or bottle-feed and have difficulty sleeping.

Severe infections can lead to serious complications such as bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia, an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. For some, respiratory syncytial virus infection in infancy may be linked to the development of asthma later in childhood.

How is RSV Spread?

RSV spreads primarily through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on surfaces or objects, where the virus can live for several hours. Children can get infected if they touch these surfaces and then touch their faces. Daycare centers or schools are potential hotspots for RSV transmission due to close contact among children. Children often share toys, learning materials, and common spaces where the virus can easily spread.

Additionally, direct contact with an infected person, such as when kissing the face of an infant while infected with RSV, can also spread the virus. It's important to note that individuals infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. However, in infants and people with weakened immune systems, the virus can spread for as long as 4 weeks, even after they stop showing symptoms.

How Can My Family Prevent RSV?

Preventing RSV infection primarily entails maintaining good hygiene practices and minimizing exposure to infected individuals. Here are some practical measures you can take to protect your child from RSV:

  • Hand Hygiene: Regular and thorough hand washing, especially after you’ve been in public spaces, can be very effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Teach your children to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid Close Contact: Keep infants, especially those under the age of 6 months, away from people with cold-like symptoms or anyone who has not washed their hands.
  • Clean Surfaces: Regularly disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch, such as toys and doorknobs, to stop the virus from spreading.
  • Avoid Touching Faces: Remind children to avoid touching their faces, as this is a common way for viruses to enter the body from contaminated hands.
  • Cover Mouth and Nose: Teach kids to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their elbow when sneezing or coughing.

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants, especially those who may be at high risk, be given an antibody called Beyfortus (nirsevimab). Recently approved by the FDA and also recommended by the CDC, this antibody helps prevent severe RSV infections and gives your child an added layer of protection against the virus. In clinical trials, it was shown to reduce the risk of medically-attended RSV cases by 75%. Capital Area Pediatrics is working with the manufacturer to obtain Beyfortus for all eligible children and ensure that Beyfortus will be covered by your insurance.

How Is RSV Treated?

If a child contracts RSV, the treatment primarily involves managing symptoms while the body fights off the virus. However, this plan can vary depending on your child's age, symptoms, general health, and the severity of the illness.

Common strategies include:

  • Hydration: Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Rest: Adequate rest can help the body recover faster. It's essential to keep your child at home, away from school or daycare, until they fully recover.
  • Medication: Over-the-counter fever reducers can help manage fever and discomfort. A bronchodilator medicine may be recommended to help open your child's airways, depending on their exam. Always consult your healthcare provider before administering any medication to your child.
  • Medical Attention: In case of severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, it's crucial to seek immediate medical help. Advanced cases may require hospitalization where the child might get treatments like IV hydration, supplemental oxygen, or respiratory support.

Again, if your child has RSV, it's essential to keep them home from school or daycare to prevent the spread of the virus. Always consult with your healthcare provider for the best prevention strategies and treatments for your child. At Capital Area Pediatrics, we're always here to help guide you through whatever health challenges your child may face.

When to Visit Capital Area Pediatrics

Recognizing the signs of RSV is crucial for ensuring your child gets the care they need in a timely manner. Parents should be vigilant and seek immediate medical attention if their child exhibits severe symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, lethargic behavior, severe cough, or high fever. Moreover, if your child is under six months of age or has a weakened immune system, you should contact your pediatrician at the onset of even mild symptoms as RSV can progress rapidly in these cases. Of note, we do not recommend RSV testing for all patients with cough and cold symptoms. It is most crucial for young infants, medically complex patients, or children who have significant respiratory distress.

At Capital Area Pediatrics, we believe that all children deserve the best care and the chance to grow up healthy and strong. We are committed to partnering with parents in their journey of raising healthy children. Our dedicated team of pediatricians is here to provide support, advice, and top-notch medical care for your child's needs.

Remember, you're not alone in this—we're here to help, every step of the way!

From well-child visits to specialty care, the team at Capital Area Pediatrics is here to help your family stay healthy all year long. Request an appointment online, or find a location near you today.