Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) – Part II

By November 17, 2022Health Tips

Last week, we talked about RSV, which is one of the most common causes of childhood illness. It can be dangerous and even life-threatening for some children. This year it is causing record high emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Today, we will continue our discussion, focusing more on how RSV is diagnosed and treated and how you might decrease the spread of the disease.

How is the diagnosis of RSV made?
Your child’s doctor may suspect RSV based on the symptoms your child is having, watching your child’s breathing pattern, hearing abnormal lung sounds when listening with a stethoscope, along with knowing whether RSV is circulating in your community.
Other tests may not be necessary, but sometimes they can be helpful to diagnose RSV or to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. These tests may include:
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
  • A swab of the nose to test for RSV and for COVID
  • Chest X-ray to look for inflammation in the lungs
  • Blood tests – such as a complete blood count
  • Pulse oximetry – the skin monitor that can detect the level of oxygen in the blood
How is RSV treated?
Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics do not work to treat it. There is currently no antiviral drug that works for RSV. Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two. Treatment for RSV generally includes supportive measures to make your child more comfortable. These include:
  • Manage fever and discomfort with medications such as acetaminophen. (Never give aspirin to a child.)
  • Nasal saline drops used with nasal suctioning to help clear a stuffy nose
  • Offer plenty of fluids and watch for signs of dehydration (dry mouth, little to no urine output, sunken eyes, and extreme fussiness or sleepiness)
  • Talk to your child’s doctor before giving any cold medications. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not good for children.
If your child has severe disease, an emergency room visit or hospital stay may be needed. Hospitalization usually only lasts a few days. Treatment at the hospital might include:
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Humidified oxygen
  • Intubation with mechanical ventilation (a breathing tube hooked to a ventilator) is only needed in rare cases.
How does COVID-19 impact RSV?
Because Covid-19 and RSV are both respiratory viruses, some of the symptoms are very similar. Having RSV may lower immunity and increase the risk of getting COVID-19, for both kids and adults. It is also possible to have both of these infections together, which can significantly worsen the severity of illness.
Can RSV be prevented?
Just like other viruses, the spread of RSV can be decreased by using some basic lifestyle habits, including:
  • Wash your hands frequently and teach your kids the importance of handwashing.
  • Limit your baby’s contact with people who have fevers or colds, especially in the first 6 months.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Discard used tissues right away.
  • Don’t share drinking glasses with others.
  • Don’t smoke – Babies exposed to tobacco smoke have a higher risk of getting RSV and having more severe symptoms. If you do smoke, do not smoke inside the house or car or around the children.
  • Wash toys regularly, especially when your child is sick.
Is there a vaccine or protective medication to protect against RSV?
There is currently no vaccine for RSV, but research is being done to try to develop a vaccine.
There is a medication called palivizumab (Synagis), which can help protect certain infants and children 2 years old and younger who are at high risk of serious complications from RSV. This includes:
  • Premature infants
  • Children with chronic lung disease
  • Children with certain heart defects
  • Children with a weakened immune system
The medication is given as a shot. The first shot is given at the start of the RSV season, and monthly injections are continued through the RSV season. It helps to prevent RSV infection. It does not help treat RSV once symptoms develop. Talk with your child’s doctor to find out if your child might benefit from this medication. It is not recommended for healthy children or for adults.
If you have any questions about RSV, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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