RSV Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory illness that affects over 2 million children under the age of five each year. Your Pediatrician is the best source of information about this common illness that occurs in a seasonal pattern. The disease begins to show up in October although children’s healthcare providers in Charlotte realize RSV increases in frequency from January through March in areas like ours with milder winters.
What is RSV Bronchiolitis?
RSV, short for Respiratory Syncytial Virus causes inflammation of the smallest airways in the lung, the bronchioles, hence the name Bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis can be caused by several different viruses, although RSV is the most common offender. Most adults and older children with RSV infection only get a cold, however children under the age of two are more likely to have wheezing and difficulty breathing with RSV. Pre-term infants born earlier than 32-35 weeks and those with heart disease or Down’s Syndrome can be more severely affected. Frequently the illness starts with runny nose and coughing, but after one to two days, the coughing becomes worse. Your child may cough non stop and even vomit with coughing. Wheezing (high pitched whistle type sounds when air is pushed out) can occur as well as rapid breathing, over 50 times per minute, and coughing or choking with feeding. This is usually when parents seek the care of their child’s Pediatrician.
How is RSV Spread?
RSV can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. For example, a child with RSV can sneeze in a daycare setting and send RSV into the air where the virus can be inhaled by another child. The virus can land on the side of a crib where a worker touches it and then touches another child causing infection. Adults and children can spread the virus. People infected with RSV are contagious for 3-8 days after becoming ill. Anyone with a cold could potentially have RSV and just by kissing your child on the cheek can spread the virus to your child. Surfaces that are contaminated with the virus remain so for up to four hours unless that surface is cleaned with a disinfectant. Your Pediatrician can explain that although you have the illness once, you don’t gain long term immunity from future infections like with some other illnesses.
How is RSV Treated?
There is no cure for a virus. Your Doctor can advise you on measures that will help your child through this illness. Always seek the advice of your Charlotte healthcare provider if your child exhibits symptoms of RSV bronchiolitis. Increased fluids, use of a cool mist humidifier in your child’s room and using a bulb suction to clear mucous from the nose may be recommended. Severe cases which can occur in infants under six months of age, or those with risk factors listed above may require hospitalization for monitoring, oxygen and intravenous fluids. For children with milder disease, your Pediatrician may order frequent follow up visits to make sure the illness is improving. Do NOT use over the counter medications without consulting your Pediatrician.
Can RSV Be Prevented?
It’s important to try to protect your child from RSV and this is especially true when your child is younger than 6 months. Healthcare professionals advise good hand-washing in all settings. Don’t allow anyone to touch your infant without washing their hands. Disinfect surfaces when contamination is suspected. Don’t smoke or allow others to smoke around your baby. Keep your baby away from anyone who has a cold and away from crowded places like shopping malls or grocery stores. For pre-term infants born at less than 32-weeks gestation and some with other conditions such as heart or chronic lung disease are eligible for an immunization for RSV, however widespread use of this immunization is not available at this time. Your Pediatrician is the best source to determine if your infant is eligible for immunization.
As it stands, parents question the value and healthfulness of immunizations. Healthcare providers no longer see the epidemics that measles, mumps or any of the other illnesses that are now vaccinated against once caused. Maybe one day, if widespread immunization were to become a reality, RSV too may become a distantly recalled disease.