RSV Season: What to Know

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The holidays bring good cheer and festive gatherings, but also bring in another, not-so-joyous time of year: RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) season. Dr. Fernando Urrego, Section Head of Pediatric Pulmonology at Ochsner Hospital for Children, shares information you and your family need to know about RSV.

What is RSV?

RSV is a common respiratory virus that most people recover from in a week or two, but it can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

People with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days after getting infected and may have the following symptoms:

• Fever (typically low-grade)

• Cough

• Tachypnea (abnormally fast breathing)

• Nasal flaring (spreading out of the nostrils with every breath)

• Retractions (caving in of the chest in between and under the ribs)

• Wheezing (high pitch whistling sound when breathing)

• Difficulty drinking and dehydration

• Lethargy or irritability

• Associated ear infection (bacterial, viral or both)

• Cyanosis (bluish color around the mouth, lips or fingernails)

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV leads to, on average, to 2.1 million outpatient visits and more than 57,000 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old.

Is RSV contagious?

RSV is highly contagious. It spreads through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It can also live on surfaces and on hands and clothing, so it can easily spread when a person touches something contaminated.

RSV can spread rapidly through schools and childcare centers. Because of this, virtually all children have had at least one RSV infection by the time they reach 2 years of age. Pre-term infants and children born with heart and lung issues are at a higher risk for contracting and developing complications from RSV.

How is RSV diagnosed?

Diagnosis of RSV is usually based on symptoms and an examination by a physician, however there are tests to detect the virus using a nasal swab.

How is RSV treated?

There is no specific treatment for RSV and antibiotics are not helpful, unless they are needed for a secondary bacterial infection. There are medications that can help relieve symptoms for fever (acetaminophen) and wheezing (albuterol). Most symptoms improve within 1 to 2 weeks.

If your child has RSV, the following treatments are recommended:

• Make sure they drink plenty of fluids

• Blow your child’s nose frequently or use a nasal aspirator for infants

• Give your child a non-aspirin pain reliever

• Do not smoke around your child

• Monitor your child’s symptoms closely as hospitalization may be required in severe cases

How can I prevent RSV?

Practicing proper hand hygiene is key to stopping RSV in its tracks, since it is easily spread by touching infected people or surfaces.

School-age children who have a cold should be kept away from younger siblings, especially babies, until their symptoms pass. Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands and sharing cups and eating utensils.

To make an appointment with Dr. Urrego, please call 504-842-3900.

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