Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Also known as: RSV, HRSV.

What is respiratory syncytial virus?

RSV is a group of medium sized RNA viruses each containing many nuclei which frequently infects the respiratory tract (breathing passages and lungs) of young (< 2-3 years of age) children. Children (and adults) can have an a RSV infection many times because of the many kinds of RSV‘s.

What causes respiratory syncytial virus infections?

The virus enters the body like many viruses that present with “cold” symptoms through the eyes, nose or throat. It is contagious and can be spread through sneezing, coughing, direct contact like shaking hands, kissing or even touching a contaminated surface (it lives for hours on countertops, toys etc.) that a previously infected person has touched. Children at risk for severe infections include: babies born premature, young infants with heart or lung disorders, those who are placed in crowded settings like day care, and children who have problems of their immune system.

What are the symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus?

After 4-6 days after exposure, an RSV infection presents with mild “cold-like” symptoms - mild fever, cough, congested or runny nose (sore throat/ headache in children who can verbally express themselves). Most recover in 1-2 weeks.
In young infants (and those at risk), however, the infection often spreads to involve the tubes leading to the lungs (bronchi and bronchioles) and the lungs, giving signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis and pneumonia which may include; fever, cough, poor feeding, tiredness or irritability, rapid and/or trouble breathing, wheezing or a bluish skin color of the lips, tongue, nails and skin from a lack of oxygen. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

What are respiratory syncytial virus care options? 

Most infants/children with mild RSV symptoms require only supportive treatments - rest, feeding, fever treatment, saline nose drops and nasal sectioning to help clear the nose.
Young infants with severe symptoms may require hospitalization and treatment with oxygen, humidified air, intravenous fluids and/or possibly even a breathing machine. 

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 3/23/2018 2:17:18 PM

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