Fort Worth, Texas,
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RSV On The Rise: 6 Things Every Parent Should Know

Pediatrician explains respiratory syncytial virus infections

By Lizy Varughese, M.D.

Cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infections in North Texas commonly increase in the winter. But this year, it's arrived earlier than usual. During the week of Nov. 20, 2016, 47 Cook Children’s patients tested positive for RSV. During this same time frame in 2015, only 9 kids had tested postive and the number was 18 in 2014.

A simple cold can quickly progress to bronchiolitis caused by the RSV virus, especially in kids under 2 years old. As a parent, here are a few things you need to know about RSV.

1. What is RSV?

RSV is a virus that impacts the respiratory tract, including both the upper and lower airways. It usually starts with cold-like symptoms, such as a stuffy nose and sneezing, but could progress to include a cough, fever or wheezing.

2. How does my child get RSV? Is it contagious?

The virus is spread through droplets caused by coughing and sneezing that linger in the air or land on surfaces. This virus can live on surfaces for about six hours and survive in the air for about 30 minutes.

3. How long does the illness last?

Illness can begin between four and six days after exposure to the virus, and can last for a week or two. Symptoms may continue longer in infants or patients with weakened immune systems.

4. How is it treated?

In most cases, supportive care is all that is necessary. This includes elevating the head of the bed, running a cool mist humidifier and using a nasal bulb for suctioning to clear secretions. Some children develop wheezing, in which case treatment with prescription albuterol through a nebulizer may be helpful. In more severe cases, deep suctioning, supplemental oxygen and hospitalization may be necessary.

5. When should I be concerned?

If your child is having difficult or labored breathing, as evidenced by retractions (tugging of the muscles around the ribs and abdomen), nasal flaring or shallow breaths, they need to be evaluated by your pediatrician.

6. How do I prevent it?

As with any other airborne disease, it is important to cover coughs and sneezes to prevent spread of the virus. Kids should avoid touching faces with unwashed hands, practice good hand-washing techniques and avoid contact with sick individuals. Parents should keep surfaces, like crib railings and toys, sanitized regularly and use disinfectant sprays. There is a vaccine available for certain premature babies or babies with underlying diseases. Talk to your pediatrician to see if your child qualifies for the vaccine.

In the absence of complications, RSV can usually be handled at home with supportive care and kids will feel better fairly quickly. If your child’s symptoms concern you or they show signs of difficulty breathing or dehydration, see your pediatrician right away.

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