Sunday, February 28, 2010

What is RSV and why do I need to worry about it?

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. It is a very common virus that causes upper respiratory symptoms in people of all ages. In adults and older children it causes simple cold symptoms. In babies the symptoms can be more severe.

RSV is seen in the winter months.

Babies most at risk for complications include:
  • babies younger than 6 months
  • babies attending daycare
  • babies with underlying heart or lung disease
  • babies born earlier than 35 weeks gestation
Symptoms may include:
fever, cough, wheezing runny nose, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing during feeding which can lead to dehydration

RSV may also cause bronchiolitis which is an inflamation of the lower respiratory tract. This inflammation can potentially be serious enough to cause blockage of the lower airways which can lead to serious respiratory failure in some cases.

It is not uncommon to also have ear infections and conjuntivitis (pink eye) at the same time.
RSV is very contagious and can spread easily by droplet particles. It can be contagious for up to a week. Handwashing is the most important way to stop the spread of infection.

Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics are not helpful to treat it. Treatment is mainly supportive, tylenol or ibuprofen for fever (ibuprofen should not be given to babies less than 6 months old), and making sure baby is hydrated. Sometimes albuterol can be helpful to treat the wheezing associated with the illness.

If your baby has RSV it is important to monitor them closely at home. Look for at least 3-4 wet diapers per day, their mouth should be moist and they should be able to drink. If you notice your baby turning blue, breathing fast, or sucking in his chest muscles when he breathes (this is called retractions) then your baby needs to be seen in the emergency department. Babies who have severe breathing difficulty and are unable to tolerate fluids may need to be hospitalized.

Babies who wheeze when they have RSV may go on to develop asthma but some may not. If the baby wheezes for the first time during RSV infection, the wheezing is likely caused by the virus and not by asthma.

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