It is now officially winter. We have had our first snow that stuck to the ground and the kids are back in school. But as pretty as it is, this is the time that parents also associate with cold viruses, influenza and all other sorts of illnesses that seem to travel around the area and infect our kids (and often their parents too)!
It is dreaded by many parents each year, especially when you have young children. But one of the most feared viruses that appears at this time of the year is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV.) Well, I have a little secret for you, your child’s doctor dreads this virus as well!
Whether you have heard of RSV or not you may be surprised by some of these facts about this illness.
FACT #1: Almost all children (97 precent of them anyway) have come down with RSV by the time they are 2 years old.
It typically causes congestion, cough, fever, sore throat and mild headache – like the symptoms of a common cold. It can also infect adults, although the older you are, and the more times you get RSV, the milder the symptoms. RSV is highly contagious and is spread through droplets that contain the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It can also live on surfaces such as countertops or doorknobs as well as on hands and clothing – so it can easily spread when a person touches something contaminated. RSV can spread rapidly through schools and daycare centers especially in late fall through early spring when there is typically yearly epidemics of the virus.
The big kicker comes in that this virus, although usually annoying and short lived for healthy children, can really cause a problem for infants and young children that were born premature, have heart disease, lung disease, or any kind of immune problem. But unfortunately, having a healthy robust young child is not a free pass when it comes to RSV – sometimes these children develop severe disease too.
FACT #2: Preventing RSV is no different than preventing a cold
So, is there anything we can do to keep this virus at bay?
Of course, washing hands well and often is the key to stopping it. Wiping down common surfaces with an antiviral wipe is also helpful. Try to wash your hands after having any contact with someone who has cold symptoms. If older school-age kids get a cold, try to keep them away from any younger siblings – especially infants – as much as is realistic – until their symptoms pass.
FACT #3: Antibiotics are not the answer for treating RSV
And what do we do if our child gets a bad cold and we suspect they have RSV?
Gratefully, 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. At home, make your child as comfortable as possible, provide plenty of fluids. To help your child breathe easier, use a cool mist humidifier. Use nasal saline to the nose – ideally before he/she is going to eat or lay down to sleep – followed by the use of a nasal aspirator. This is our way of blowing their nose as the young ones can’t do this on their own. Treat a fever by using acetaminophen or Ibuprofen (if the child is older than 6 months of age). Aspirin should not be used in children as it has been associated with Reye syndrome, a life threatening illness.
FACT #4: There are specific symptoms of RSV to look for in your kids
When should you worry that your child may be getting especially sick with RSV? Here are some very important markers to look for:
- Your child has a fever
- There is a cough that gets worse
- A child that is unusually fussy
- A child that has a decrease in fluid intake
FACT #5: RSV can be very dangerous, especially to younger children or those with an underlying health issue. Seek immediate help if you child exhibits any of the following:
- Rapid breathing or labored breathing
- Signs of dehydration
- A child that is severely irritable or inactive
- If fingernails or lips appear blue
- A high fever and looks very sick
Please keep in mind that if you are unsure about your child’s health – please call your child’s doctor or set up an appointment. Remember, we are here to help and provide parents with as much information as possible. As such, I have modified and created my own doctor adage: “May the snow be pretty, the roads be clear and the virus season be mild”!