Babies can’t communicate as well as we do. As a result, parents and caregivers have to understand and look out for the various signs of the stages of development in their little ones. In fact, knowing the signs becomes much more important when a child has to deal with an ailment like RSV.
In this article, we’d answer every question you have about RSV; the most common cause of airway obstruction and pneumonia in babies.
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Table of contents
First, What Is RSV?
In simple terms, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a virus that causes infection in the lungs (pneumonia) and airway inflammation (bronchitis) in babies. On the other hand, this virus only produces minor respiratory infections like cough or rhinitis in adults.
As we mentioned earlier, the virus is more serious in babies. This is because their developing airways in babies aren’t strong enough to cough up mucus as well as an older child. Eventually, this leads to airway obstruction.
Just like many other viral infections, there are no drugs that completely cure RSV. However, there’s a way out.
Keep reading to discover all you need to know and do.
How is RSV Transmitted?
RSV spreads when a baby comes in contact with nasal or oral fluids from an infected adult or child. Most times, this happens when he/she touches an infected surface/object then touches his/her eyes, mouth, or nose.
Furthermore, this virus may spread through droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
Who’s at Risk for RSV?
Due to the fact that children under the age of 2 experience the most serious symptoms of RSV, this section would focus on our precious little ones.
Here’s the fact: A child is more at risk for contracting the virus if he/she lives with or is around people with the virus.
Most times, this condition which is more common in winter and the early days of spring occurs in yearly outbreaks at schools, daycare centers, and communities. In fact, studies show that most babies get infected with RSV at least once in the first two years of life.
Furthermore, it is important to note that there’s a chance of reinfection. What this means is that a person who got the virus as a child may also get infected again as an adult. Thankfully, the symptoms in adults are often milder and easily managed.
In addition, preterm babies or children with an underlying heart, lung, or immune system disease often face a higher risk of RSV infection.
Diagnosis of RSV?
At the clinic, your pediatrician would ask important questions relating to your baby’s symptoms and health history. In addition, he or she may ask to know about recent illnesses in your family, or your baby’s school or daycare center.
Furthermore, this is accompanied by a physical examination and tests (usually a nasal swab or wash). This is a painless test that confirms the presence of the virus in nasal fluid.
Recognizing RSV In Babies
As we mentioned earlier, for babies, symptoms are really important.
The first step to recognizing RSV in babies is to identify the symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms appear within 2 to 5 days after exposure to the virus.
Thankfully, the early phase of RSV in babies and children is often mild. You can just think of it is as a mild cold. However, it is important to note that the illness spreads and the symptoms may progress rapidly.
The common symptoms of RSV in children include:
- Runny nose
- Apnea (Short periods without breathing)
- Eating, drinking, swallowing difficulties
- Breathing difficult
- Cyanosis (Bluish discoloration around the lips and fingertips)
How to Prevent RSV In Your Baby
Regarding prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
- Reduced exposure to smoke
- Minimal contact with sick people in the first two years of life
These tips are more important for preterm babies or children with any form of congenital illness that affects the respiratory tract.
Furthermore, you can protect your little one from RSV by making hand washing a culture in your home. In fact, it is really helpful if people wash their hands or use an alcohol-based sanitizer before and after touching your baby.
In addition, we recommend removing your baby from any area where people are smoking.
When to See Your Doctor
If you’ve followed all the tips in this article and you still suspect that your baby has RSV, the next step is to contact your pediatrician or go to the hospital as soon as you can.
This becomes much more important if:
- Your child shows the signs of dehydration; this includes sunken fontanels or the absence of tears when crying
- He/She begins to cough up thick mucus that is grey, green, or yellow
- There’s a high fever that exceeds 104.0°F or 39.4℃
- There is any sign of a thick nasal discharge that makes it difficult for your baby to breathe.
Finally, you’d need to seek urgent medical care if your little one’s fingernails or mouth suddenly becomes blue in color. This is usually a sign that he/she isn’t getting enough oxygen and is in severe distress.
Treatment of RSV in Babies
Generally, the treatment plan depends on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health status. In addition, it also depends on the severity of the condition at the time.
As we mentioned earlier, most viral infections do not have a curative medicine. Therefore, the goal is to manage the symptoms and improve the baby’s general health status.
Depending on the factors highlighted earlier, treatment may include:
- Fluids: In some cases, your doctor may even prescribe an intravenous (IV) line to deliver fluids and electrolytes.
- Suctioning of Mucus: The aim of this simple procedure is to remove excess mucus and make breathing easier for your baby
- Bronchodilator Medications: This would open up your child’s airways and alleviate breathing difficulties.
- Tube Feeding: This only becomes an option when a baby has trouble breastfeeding or swallowing food.
- Antiviral Medication: In severe cases of RSV in babies, pediatricians may prescribe antiviral medicines to reduce the effects of the infection.
The good news is that your child can make a full recovery from RSV in one or two weeks. Nevertheless, if you observe any of the major warning signs we mentioned earlier, please contact your doctor immediately. Read our other article on zika virus
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Vakrilova L, Nikolova SH, Slavov S, Radulova P, Slancheva B. An outbreak of RSV infections in a neonatology clinic during the RSV-season. BMC Pediatr. 2021 Dec 11;21(1):567. doi: 10.1186/s12887-021-03053-9. PMID: 34895173; PMCID: PMC8665584.
Stein RT, Bont LJ, Zar H, Polack FP, Park C, Claxton A, Borok G, Butylkova Y, Wegzyn C. Respiratory syncytial virus hospitalization and mortality: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2017 Apr;52(4):556-569. doi: 10.1002/ppul.23570. Epub 2016 Oct 14. PMID: 27740723; PMCID: PMC5396299.