Thursday, January 18, 2018

Winter Brings Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Risk to Infants

While there has been much focus on H1N1 flu this winter, there are other respiratory illnesses that pose a threat to children, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can be especially severe in infants.

RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. While most healthy people recover from RSV infection, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the nation. Each year, 75,000 to 125,000 children in this age group are hospitalized due to RSV infection.

The CDC also reports that when youngsters are exposed to RSV for the first time, 25 to 40 percent of them have signs or symptoms of bronchiolitis or pneumonia and 0.5 to 2 percent will require hospitalization. Most children hospitalized for RSV infection are under 6 months of age.

Winter is an especially harsh time for this illness. RSV infections generally occur in the United States from November to April.

According to pediatric infectious disease specialist Michael Ryan, D.O., chairman, Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, RSV illness develops four to six days after exposure, typically with a runny nose and decrease in appetite. Coughing, sneezing and fever can follow one to three days later, and wheezing may also occur.

“In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection,” said Dr. Ryan. “Most healthy infants infected with RSV do not require hospitalization. In most cases, including among those who need to be hospitalized, full recovery from illness occurs in about one to two weeks.”

Unfortunately, no preventative vaccine is available.

“While there is no immunization available to prevent RSV, parents can take simple steps to ensure that their children are protected. The most effective preventative method, especially for high-risk children, is avoidance. Do not put your child in situations where they will come in contact with people with cold-like symptoms. While it is difficult to do so, limit as much as possible the time your infant spends in child-care and other public hot beds of cold germs,” said Dr. Ryan. “Also encourage any visitors to wash their hands before interacting with your child.”

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