HCN News & Notes

Highly Contageous RSV Arrives in Springfield Area

SPRINGFIELD — Respiratory syncytial virus, better known as simply RSV, has arrived in the community.

The highly contagious virus, which is prevalent during the winter months through early spring, is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and viral pneumonia in children under one year of age, according to Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 58,000 children under 5 years of age are hospitalized with the infection. Most infants are infected before age 1, and virtually all children have had an RSV infection by 2 years of age.

“Parents should not be overly alarmed,” said Klatte, who noted that only a small percentage of youngsters develop severe disease and require hospitalization.

RSV can also affect older children, teenagers, and adults, especially those with compromised immune systems and others who are 65 and older. Symptoms often mirror the common cold — a runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, and fever. There is no antibiotic for the virus, which, like a cold, must run its course.

Low-grade fevers are common with RSV infections, and may come and go for a few days. If a child is having high fevers without relief for multiple days, or increased difficulty with breathing (such as wheezing, grunting, or ongoing flaring of the nostrils) is observed along with a child’s runny nose and cough, then a visit to the doctor is warranted.

“It’s all about symptom management — making sure your child is hydrated, his or her fever is under control, and that they’re not having any trouble breathing,” Klatte said.

The severity of the symptoms can vary depending on the age of the child and whether he or she has any chronic medical problems, such as asthma or premature birth. Bacterial infections such as ear infections and bacterial pneumonia may occasionally develop in children with RSV infection.

Because RSV can cause serious illness in some youngsters and it is so widespread, some doctors consider it to be the most important childhood infection of the respiratory system. Those hospitalized often have severe breathing problems or are seriously dehydrated and need IV fluids, Klatte noted. In most cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days, and complete recovery usually occurs in one to two weeks.

Children under the age of 1 are most frequently affected by the serious symptoms of RSV. It can spread directly from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes — sending virus-containing droplets into the air where they can infect a person who inhales them — as well as by hand-to-nose, hand-to-mouth, and hand-to-eye contact. The virus can be spread indirectly when someone touches any object infected with the virus, such as toys, countertops, doorknobs, or pens, and can live on environmental surfaces for several hours.

Infants and young children most at risk for severe RSV infection include those with a history of prematurity, infants under 6 weeks of age, those with congenital heart disease or chronic lung conditions, and those who suffer from immunodeficiencies such as HIV, AIDS, cancer, and transplant patients.

To prevent exposure to RSV and other viruses, especially in the first few months of a child’s life, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends washing hands before touching a baby and keeping babies away from anyone who has a cold, fever, or runny nose; crowded areas like shopping malls, movie theaters, and restaurants; and tobacco smoke. For high-risk infants, participation in childcare facilities should be restricted during RSV season whenever possible.

“The good news is that most infants and children overcome RSV infections without any long-term complications,” Klatte said, as RSV infections can often be relatively asymptomatic and go unnoticed.

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