What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than one year of age in the United States.
So, what do you need to know?
- As mentioned above, RSV is a major cause of respiratory illness in young babies. For most babies and young children, this infection may cause nothing more than a cold, but for premature babies and infants with chronic diseases and/or lower immune systems, RSV can lead to serious problems.
- RSV is highly contagious. It can be spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes and can even live for a few hours on surfaces (desks, countertops, doorknobs or toys) and on hands. This makes the virus extremely easy to spread.
- Parents and other adults can easily infect young children with RSV. Because the symptoms of this infection resemble the common cold (a runny nose, sore throat, mild headache, cough, and sometimes fever), parents and other adults may not even know they have it but can still be contagious.
- There are steps you can take to prevent RSV infection.
- Ask people to wash their hands before touching your baby. This is a good rule of thumb in general.
- If you have cold symptoms, avoid kissing your baby’s face.
- Keep your infant away from large crowds.
- Wash toys and other items in the baby’s environment regularly.
- If possible, keep your baby away from anyone with cold symptoms.
- Limit the time high-risk babies and young children stay in daycare.
- Antibiotics aren’t used because RSV is a virus. The CDC also indicates that fortunately, most cases of RSV are mild and require no specific treatment from doctors. Antibiotics aren’t used because RSV is a virus and antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. Medication may sometimes be given to open up the airways and to improve breathing.
Experts encourage parents and caregivers to take all precautionary measures to prevent RSV and to be aware of the symptoms and warning signs. Also, should a child contract RSV, parents are asked to contact their infant’s doctor and, in most cases, simply treat older kids at home as it’s not necessary for them to distinguish RSV from a common cold.