Everything you need to know about RSV

Posted on May 3rd, 2019

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common, contagious virus that targets the respiratory tract of children under the age of two. By Kim Bell

Everything you need to know about RSV

The cooler weather brings with it the usual sniffles and sneezes, but it can also increase your baby’s risk of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This virus targets the respiratory tract of children under the age of two. Sister Jo McAnerney, nurse epidemiologist for the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, explains that RSV is usually more common leading up to the flu season.

This highly contagious illness is similar to a cold or upper respiratory tract infection. “Symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, coughing, and less frequently, a fever,” says McAnerney. She adds that in very young infants, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties. “Ear infections and croup may also occur in children,” she adds.

ALSO SEE: Your guide to childhood respiratory illnesses

The serious side

“RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in infants and bronchitis in children under two years of age in South Africa,” warns McAnerney.

There is currently no specific treatment for RSV and McAnerney says in most cases, the infection will clear within a fortnight. “Symptomatic treatment can be used.”

Home care treatments include using a bulb syringe and saline drops to remove nasal fluids; using a cool-mist humidifier to keep the air moist, which will help with breathing; giving your baby small amounts of fluid throughout the day and using age-appropriate pain medication and fever-reducers. More serious cases may need hospitalisation and treatments may include oxygen, IV fluids and medications to help open your baby’s airways.

ALSO SEE: What you should know about humidifiers

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine currently available. McAnerney shares that, “The most effective methods of preventing infection are infection control methods, such as washing hands, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid sharing eating utensils.”

Did you know? RSV can survive for more than six hours on countertops and other surfaces, and up to 30 minutes on hands, clothing or tissues.

Those most at risk of RSV

  • Babies born before 30 weeks.
  • Babies under 10 weeks.
  • Babies and toddlers whose immune systems have been weakened due to illness or medical treatments.
  • Toddlers under the age of two, who were born with heart or lung concerns.

When to call a doctor

Usually RSV causes cold-like symptoms that can last up to two weeks. However, it is time to seek medical advice if you notice any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Coughing up yellow, green or gray mucus.
  • Unusually upset or listless.
  • Refuses to feed from the breast or bottle.
  • Signs of dehydration, such as no tears when crying, little or no urine output for six hours, or a cool, dry skin.
  • If your baby is unusually tired, breathing rapidly, or has a blue tinge to his lips or fingernails – seek immediate medical assistance.

ALSO SEE: 12 baby and toddler symptoms you should never ignore

6 tips for prevention

  • Wash your hands, particularly after contact with anyone who has cold symptoms and before picking up your newborn.
  • Clean and disinfect hard surfaces.
  • Keep hand sanitizer in your baby bag and only let people touch your newborn after they have cleaned their hands.
  • Avoid kissing your baby if you have cold symptoms and don’t allow other to kiss him either.
  • Don’t allow anyone smoke around your baby.
  • If possible, keep your baby away from anyone, including siblings, who has cold symptoms.
Kim Bell

About Kim Bell

Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.