“Colds” are caused by viruses. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is one of the viruses that cause “cold” symptoms. Those symptoms are coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, earache, fever.
For most people a typical cold will hang around for one to two weeks. The symptoms remain mostly in the upper respiratory area of our body. We usually feel better when we eat some chicken soup, take medications that treat symptoms, gargle with salt water and rest.
The population most at risk for a cold to turn into something more dangerous, such as RSV, are people who are immune compromised, babies that are 6 months or younger, any child that has chronic lung disease, infants who were born preterm at less than 35 weeks gestation, babies with congenital heart disease or any lung or airway complication. Others who are at risk are babies that have school-age siblings, have a family history of asthma, attend day care, or are exposed to smoking.
RSV is spread like any other “cold” type virus. When a person who is infected coughs or sneezes, virus containing droplets fill the air. We “catch” the virus by touching a surface where the virus has settled, touch the surface, and inadvertently touch our mouth, nose or eyes. An infection can also happen by simply breathing in the virus.
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Effective hand washing is the best way to prevent an infection. Soap, water and rubbing your hands together for at least 15 seconds is considered good hand washing. If you think you have been exposed to the virus, change your clothes when you get home, minimize touching your face and clean household surfaces with a disinfectant.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around 125,000 babies and preschool children are admitted to a hospital with a serious RSV infection every year. RSV is usually not a problem for school age children and adults. That is because of a stronger immune system and larger airway.
If you ever have any concern about your child’s breathing you need to seek medical help. RSV infections cause coughing, wheezing, and sometimes gasping for breath. A sore throat, bluish fingernails and coloring around the lips, flaring nostrils, earache, fever, irritability, loss of appetite, unusual sleepiness are also signs of a RSV infection.
The treatment is based on the symptoms.
There is no vaccination to prevent a RSV infection. However there is drug that we give to all preterm babies that helps prevent serious RSV infections. It is called Synagis (Palivizumab). Synagis reduces the risk of pneumonia and other lung complications attributed to RSV. It works by disallowing the RSV protein to fuse, which inhibits its entry into cells. The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines on which children should receive this medication.
We are heading into what is considered cold and flu season. Take care to wash your hands, limit exposure to people with colds. If you are sick with symptoms be considerate by limiting to whom you expose the virus.
Live well, be well.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.