As RSV cases continue to rise in parts of the US, with some areas approaching seasonal peak levels, those typical “bugs” your child brings home can make you feel nervous.
With so much hectic these days, it can be hard to figure out what’s behind a constant cough, especially if your child is very young.
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, can include symptoms similar to a common cold.
However, the virus can turn into something more serious. RSV can infect people of all ages, but it is most serious in older adults and young children.
In general, almost all children under the age of 2 have been exposed to RSV, but due to all the pandemic response in recent years, children have not been exposed to RSV as much.
That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing such a high spike this year, as well as RSV in children older than 2 years.
Symptoms of RSV can vary and usually begin four to six days after infection. The most common symptoms may include:
Young babies with RSV may be fussy, sluggish, or have trouble breathing.
Your pediatrician will be able to determine if it is a common cold, COVID-19, or RSV, if you are concerned about the symptoms your child is displaying.
They may do tests, such as chest x-rays, to see if pneumonia has developed.
When should you call a doctor?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note an increase in emergency room visits associated with RSV.
However, most cases will clear up on their own within a week or two. Symptoms are usually worse on days three to five of infection. Only 3% of children with RSV will require hospitalization.
If symptoms become severe, contact your pediatrician immediately. This could include:
Symptoms of bronchiolitis
Symptoms of dehydration (only one wet diaper in 8 hours or more)
Gray or blue lips, tongue, or skin
A significant decrease in activity or alertness.
Although RSV is common, and it may seem difficult to determine how serious it will become, there are some risk factors that parents should be aware of.
Children who are born prematurely or are 6 months or younger are at increased risk of complications from RSV
Children with chronic heart or lung disease, or a weaker immune system, may also be susceptible to RSV.
There is no vaccine to prevent RSV and no specific treatment for the infection. As stated, most cases will resolve themselves. However, there are some things you can do to help relieve symptoms:
Control pain and fever with over-the-counter medications (consult your pediatrician for guidance and never give children aspirin)
Drink much liquid
Nasal saline solution to help with breathing
Cool mist humidifier to help dissolve mucus
Talk to your health care provider before giving your child any over-the-counter cold medicine.
how it spreads
RSV is usually spread through coughs and sneezes, but it can be spread when someone touches a surface that has the virus on it and then touches their face, before washing their hands.
The following tips may help reduce your family’s risk:
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hands
Avoid close contact with other people, especially those who are sick.
wash your hands frequently
Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth with dirty hands
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the home
If you are sick, stay home.
The best way to prevent the transmission of RSV is what we have been doing very well for the past few years:
Scrupulous hand hygiene with frequent handwashing with soap and water, and cleaning of surfaces that small hands reach, such as doorknobs and handles. Also, wear a mask if you have any respiratory symptoms.
With knowledge of what RSV looks like, and how it is different from other viruses, you can take steps to keep your child as healthy as possible throughout the year.
For more information, visit the CDC website.
Dr. Matthew Husa is the medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Colorado & Wyoming.