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An Rx for RSV

This cold-like virus hits some infants hard

As a child, you probably never heard of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). But today, doctors believe RSV is one of the most common cause of respiratory infections in young children.

RSV infection may be life-threatening for premature infants and other high risk infants, such as infants with congenital heart disease or other serious chronic illnesses in the first and sometimes second year of life. Parents can help prevent their high-risk child from getting infected with RSV with a monthly intramuscular injection of a monoclonal antibody called palivizumab during the five months of RSV season.

RSV outbreaks usually hit in late fall, winter, or early spring. The CDC reports that they have no way of predicting at the beginning of a season whether it's going to be a particularly severe season or not.

RSV usually causes mild symptoms. Signs include a stuffy, runny nose, coughing, slight fever, and sometimes wheezing. Symptoms may linger a week or two.

There isn't much treatment once you've been infected. Ask your pediatrician about fluids, rest, and medication to reduce fever or pain.

But sometimes an infant's first brush with RSV can cause a more severe lower respiratory infection, such as bronchiolitis--coughing, wheezing, and severe difficulty breathing that may lead to a low level of oxygen. 

Young infants tend to have smaller airways making their breathing vulnerable. But other young children also face risks, especially those born prematurely or with congenital heart or lung ailments.

How can you tell if your infant's infection is serious? If your infant is laboring for each breath--nostrils flaring, grunting, unable to drink, muscles between the ribs retracting--that's a child who may require emergency medical attention.

Heading off RSV

You can help limit RSV. To avoid infection:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 15-20 seconds. 

  • Use tissues on runny noses. They're more sanitary than handkerchiefs.

  • Cover mouth and nose for coughs and sneezes.  

  • Don't share cups or utensils with your child or between children.

  • Avoid crowded places during RSV season.