As cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continue to reach record highs across the country, families need to understand what RSV is, how to prevent it, and when to visit their pediatric healthcare provider.
Jennifer Sonney, Ph.D., APRN, PPCNP-BC, FFANP, FAAN
President, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
It is estimated that more than 55,000 children in the United States are hospitalized yearly due to RSV infections. RSV is a virus that causes common cold symptoms, but it can also cause airway inflammation. Although anyone can get RSV, premature infants and patients under the age of 2 are most vulnerable to severe breathing problems due to their smaller airways.
RSV spreads through droplets from coughs or sneezes, making it highly contagious, especially in childcare facilities and schools. To avoid RSV and severe illness in your family, you should wash your hands and clean surfaces frequently, cover coughs, and avoid close contact with sick individuals. If you or your child get sick, stay home. Signs and symptoms include a runny nose, decreased appetite, cough, and wheezing or difficulty breathing. In very young infants, you may notice irritability and decreased activity, too.
If your child is diagnosed with RSV, there are things you can do at home to keep them comfortable after consulting with your pediatric provider. Make sure your child is getting plenty of fluids, and manage pain and fevers with acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed. If you have an infant or young child, you may use saline drops and a bulb syringe to clear their nose. You should also monitor your child’s breathing. If your child develops wheezing, labored breathing, or other symptoms that are worsening, seek urgent medical attention. With more serious cases, patients may need intravenous fluids, oxygen treatments, or ventilation in rare cases.
Current RSV treatment focuses on supportive measures after the patient is diagnosed, but researchers are investigating innovations in monoclonal antibodies and maternal immunization. These new developments could prevent or mitigate RSV and the dangers it presents, especially to infants and young children. Until long-term solutions are available, be knowledgeable and proactive to keep your family safe and healthy this winter.