It’s becoming more common for parents to ask loved ones not to get too close to newborns. But as we enter another cold & flu season, even children up to the age of two can be especially vulnerable to germs.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is virtually harmless for adults, but for babies and young toddlers, it can become dangerous.
“It actually causes infants to come to the emergency room and the hospital more than any other illness in the first year of life,” said Dr. Rosemary Olivero, section chief of pediatric infectious disease at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital told Fox reporters. “RSV is a very common viral infection that can spread to anybody at any age, but it really severely affects young infants.” (1)
“Children who get affected the worst by RSV are children less than one, although we can occasionally see a child up to age two have a more severe case of RSV”.
According to the CDC, in an average year, RSV can lead to: (2)
- 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than 5 years old in the US
- 57,527 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old in the US
- 177,000 hospitalizations among adults older than 65 years in the US
- 14,000 deaths among adults older than 65 years in the US
What are the Symptoms of RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus symptoms in children and adults can include: (3)
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
For infants and young toddlers, symptoms may be less obvious and only include: (3)
- Difficulty breathing
Wheezing and difficulty breathing is the most troubling symptom for infants. “The virus can cause inflammation in the airways, and younger children — especially infants — have very little airways,” says Dr. Olivero. “So if those airways get inflamed, they can become sick, because it’s harder for them to breath.”
How Does RSV Spread?
Like most respiratory infections, RSV can spread when people cough, sneeze, kiss, and share drinks or utensils. Furthermore, germs can spread on other shared surfaces including doorknobs, light switches, phones, remotes, elevator buttons, and so on. (5)
“Not only can it be spread from person to person, but RSV can actually live for a short amount of time on the things that babies would touch or play with.” (1)
People with RSV can be contagious for over a week, leaving a large window of opportunity for germs to spread. (5)
How Can You Help Prevent the Spread of RSV?
If you’re caring for an infant or young toddler, there are many ways you can help to minimize the spread of infection. (6)
- Ask family and friends to refrain from kissing your child
- Wash your hands frequently, including after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- Wash your hands before making contact with your baby
- Thoroughly wash bottles, cups, spoons, etc.
- Family members with cold symptoms should avoid contact with your child
In severe cases, infants may need to be intubated to help them get enough oxygen while they recover.
RSV typically goes away on its own within 1-2 weeks. Staying hydrated and using home remedies or over the counter medicine can help to manage symptoms.
Marcella Altagracia Escoto, DO recommends taking the following steps at home: (4)
- Focus on keeping your child comfortable
- Keep your child well-hydrated. For babies, offer small amounts of fluids as regularly as you can
- Avoid hot-water and steam humidifiers, which can be dangerous because of the high temperature
- Use a nasal aspirator (or bulb syringe) when necessary if your child is too young to blow their own nose
- It is not safe to give Aspirin to your sick child. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before using over the counter medications.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
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