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Do you have a child experiencing a runny nose or fever? At first glance, you might think it’s just the typical flu virus.
However, according to a news article, hospitals and urgent care centers in California are experiencing an influx of patients (mostly children) with respiratory illness caused by another virus: the respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.
Like the flu and COVID-19, RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes mild cold-like symptoms. In most cases, the virus doesn’t cause severe illnesses, but if you have an infant child, it can cause severe lung complications like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
So, as a parent, what should you know about this virus?
What are the RSV signs and symptoms, especially in infants? Is RSV highly contagious? How can you prevent your children, especially if you have an infant, from getting infected? And if your children get an RSV infection, what are their treatment options?
This article will answer these questions and explain what you should know about RSV.
What is RSV, and what are its risks to infants?
RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes mild cold-like symptoms. In the United States, the virus generally emerges in the fall and peaks in the winter, coinciding with the flu season; it can also vary in different parts of the country.
According to CDC, almost all children will get an RSV infection after their second birthday, and most individuals infected with RSV recover in a week or two. But if you have an infant child infected with the virus, it can cause severe lung illnesses. In the United States, this virus is the most common cause of lung infections in babies younger than one year.
Others who are also at risk are:
- Premature babies
- Young children and adults with weakened immune systems and chronic diseases
- Older adults with certain medical conditions
Is RSV highly contagious?
Yes – RSV is highly contagious. It spreads through virus droplets from coughing or sneezing, direct contact with someone infected, and touching one’s face after coming in contact with a contaminated object (like a doorknob or toys).
According to the CDC, people with RSV infection are contagious for three to eight days, but they may also spread the virus a day or two before showing symptoms. In addition, some infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for as long as four weeks, even after they stop showing signs.
The virus can also survive many hours on hard surfaces but typically lives on soft surfaces for shorter amounts of time.
What are the RSV signs and symptoms, especially in infants?
RSV symptoms in infants typically start with a cold, which may be followed by bronchiolitis or pneumonia. In healthy children and adults, RSV infection may also cause similar cold symptoms, but they are usually mild.
These symptoms, which start to show within four to six days of infection, include:
- Runny nose and congestion
- Sore throat
- Coughing (dry or wet)
- Mild headache
- Decrease in appetite or poor feeding in infants
It’s important to note that RSV symptoms do not always appear in infants. The only symptoms in your infant child may be irritability, decreased activity, wheezing, and breathing difficulties.
What should you do if your infant child has an RSV infection?
If you suspect your infant child has an RSV infection, visit your nearest urgent care centre.
Our urgent care centers can treat symptoms like cough, runny nose, or sore throat for those from Lincoln, CA or Granite Bay, CA. Services for respiratory problems such as asthma, breathing difficulty, and pneumonia are also available.
There is no specific treatment yet against the virus, but preventive vaccines are currently being developed. A drug called palivizumab is also available to prevent severe RSV illness in infants and children at high risk for severe diseases (CDC). However, while the drug can help prevent serious illnesses from RSV, it cannot prevent an infection or treat an existing one.
In most cases, the virus usually goes away on its own, and recovery takes about a week or two.
If your child shows mild symptoms, you can do the following for relief:
- Give lots of fluids and frequent feedings.
- Use nasal saline and a cool-mist humidifier to allow easier breathing.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to children older than six months to help with slight fevers. Avoid giving aspirin, as well as cough and cold medications.
How can I prevent my children from getting an RSV infection?
While it’s impossible to avoid the virus entirely, there are ways you can try to protect your children from getting an RSV infection:
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and teach your children to make this a habit.
- Clean surfaces in your home, especially those that are often touched by children.
- Avoid touching your children’s faces with your unwashed hands
- Get vaccinated – keep your children’s immunization updated and get your family’s annual flu shots.
Daycare centres and schools are typically contagious during RSV season, so you may want to limit the time your infant child spends in these places.
If you’re from Lincoln, CA or Granite Bay, CA, our urgent care centers provide flu shots and vaccinations to protect you and your family against viruses.