Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is rapidly infecting many young children throughout the country. Nurse Practitioner Erika Westrich at Cape Physician Associates gives insight on what RSV is, ways to prevent it, symptoms to look out for and more.
What is RSV?
“Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that can cause acute bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis is a type of illness that affects the upper and lower parts of the lungs, unlike the common cold, which typically only affects the upper part of the lungs. The small branches of the lungs can be affected, causing airway obstruction or trapping, which is not tolerated by the younger population whose lungs are very small. Due to this, we see more severe courses of RSV in younger patients. RSV can lead to hospitalization and need for oxygen in some cases.”
At What Age Are Children Most at Risk?
“Children are typically most at risk for severe RSV anywhere from newborn to two years old.”
What Are the Symptoms of RSV?
“Usually, children present with a runny nose, cough and fever. Other symptoms may include a decrease in appetite and activity level, wheezing, respiratory distress, vomiting and looser stools.”
How Does Testing Work?
“We test for RSV by nasal swab. It is a rapid swab that can be done in our office, and we will usually receive results within 15 minutes.”
What Do You Do to Treat RSV?
“The treatment is usually supportive: cool-mist humidifier at night or during sleep, nasal saline drops or spray followed by nasal suction three-to-four times a day with a nasal bulb or NoseFrida and keeping children elevated. Nebulizers and steroids typically do not help RSV itself but can help suppress underlying conditions such as asthma.”
Why Are We Seeing an Uptick Now?
“Typically, we see an increase in cases of RSV in the winter, but we suspect with the mask-wearing this past winter, and the relaxing and removal of mask policies in the spring, children are now more exposed to respiratory infections, causing an uptick in RSV. We started seeing it around a month ago, and it progressively worsened. We have had a lot more admissions due to RSV in the past month.”
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Their Child from Contracting RSV?
“Keep your child away from any kids or adults who are sick—anyone can carry RSV with common cold symptoms or asymptomatically. Try to keep your child’s hands washed. Try not to drink after each other. Try to keep others from kissing your babies, especially the infants. If your child goes to daycare, make sure they are cleaning surfaces thoroughly throughout the day. It usually spreads by droplets and can live on surfaces for an hour or two.”
Anything Else Parents Should Know?
“Usually, kids with RSV will peak at day three, four or five. They will start with a runny nose, cough or fever, and it will gradually worsen, so it is not the worst initially like some viruses are. Kids also do not sleep well with it. My child just had RSV, and we had a few long nights. Kids can also develop ear infections with RSV, so be mindful of that.”