Intro to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

RSV season is upon us.  This is when families of children with a trach go into hibernation; preschool-aged trached children are typically advised to avoid contact with the public and with other preschool-aged children if at all possible.  I thought it appropriate to raise awareness of RSV in honor of its early arrival in our state.

RSV Protection CDC

What is RSV?

RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus.  It’s the bug that nearly every preschool child contracts yet few moms of preschoolers ever hear about. This is because in children without preexisting health problems, RSV presents like a bad cold with coughing, sneezing, fever, and decreased appetite lasting a week or two.  These children usually recover from RSV without ever being tested for it and possibly without ever seeing a doctor.  RSV season coincides roughly with cold and flu season lasting from November to April.  The CDC of each state tracks RSV cases and alerts healthcare professionals when the season has begun and ended for the year.

How is RSV transmitted?

RSV is spread when saliva or mucus from an infected person comes into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth of another person.  For instance, an infected person coughs or sneezes and people nearby inhale droplets in the air containing the virus.  Or, after coughing or sneezing, an infected person transfers the virus to a surface which another person subsequently touches before touching their own eyes, nose, or mouth.

How is RSV treated?

There is no treatment for RSV beyond easing symptoms with fever reducers, decongestants, and cough suppressants.  RSV is a virus, and so antibiotics are not effective to treat it.

Is RSV dangerous?

Most healthy children and adults will recover from RSV without complications, similar to the recovery from a cold.  However, RSV is dangerous to vulnerable populations such as infants, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems or other health complications.  In these populations, RSV may cause severe breathing problems requiring hospitalization; some such cases of RSV result in death.  The populations that are most vulnerable to RSV are also frequently in the environments which are most likely to promote the spread of it, such as hospitals, day cares, and nursing homes.  Because of the dangers RSV and other viruses present, many hospitals do not allow young children, who are most likely to contract and trasmit RSV, to visit their facilities during the height of RSV season.

How can RSV be prevented?

RSV can be prevented primarily by frequent hand washing and wise hygiene practices such as not touching your face (this prevents any exchange of germs between your hands and your face, mouth, nose, and eyes).  Practice becoming conscious of when you touch a “high traffic” surface, such as a door handle, paper towel dispenser, elevator button, or receptionist pen; also be aware of what may be transferred on the surface of your cell phone, keys, or hand bag when they are set down. It is eye opening to become aware of how often we have the opportunity to pick up germs, and this awareness is the natural beginning of wisely timed hand and surface sanitizing.

Where can I learn more?

See the CDC website for a wealth of information, including tracking data for your state

This RSV 101 page is directed to NICU parents and includes information on the preventative shot, Synegis, available exclusively to the most high-risk patients

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