RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in babies. It is an illness that often occurs in yearly outbreaks in communities, school classrooms, and day care centers. In the United States, RSV is more common in winter and spring months.
RSV is spread from respiratory secretions through close contact with infected persons or contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. Infection can occur when infectious material contacts mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, or nose, and possibly through the inhalation of droplets generated by a sneeze or cough. The incubation period (time from exposure to symptoms) is about four to six days.
RSV does not usually occur until a baby is 4 to 6 weeks old. However, because premature babies are born before receiving all of the mother's immunities, they are more susceptible. Babies can also be reinfected with the virus. RSV is slightly more common in boys than girls. Babies with chronic lung disease (a condition that may develop following respiratory disease as premature infants) are also at increased risk of developing RSV.
Infection with the virus can lead to severe respiratory illness and pneumonia, and may become life threatening. RSV in infancy may be related to development of asthma later in childhood.
The following are the most common symptoms of RSV. However, each baby may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of RSV may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's physician for a diagnosis.
Diagnosis is sometimes difficult because the symptoms of RSV can resemble other infections. Illness in other family members, other babies in the hospital nursery, or the time of year may provide clues. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination of your child, a test (nasal swab or nasal wash) of the baby's respiratory secretions may show the presence of a virus.
Specific treatment for RSV will be determined by your baby's physician based on:
There are no medications used to treat the virus itself. Care of a baby with RSV involves treating the effects of the virus on the respiratory system. Because a virus causes the illness, antibiotics are not useful. Treatment may include:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that babies at high risk for RSV receive the medication palivizumab to protect them against the serious complications of the illness. High-risk babies include those born prematurely and those with heart, lung, or neuromuscular diseases. Palivizumab is a monoclonal antibody that is usually given monthly during the RSV "season" from late fall through spring.
Palivizumab is not a vaccine and does not prevent the virus. But it does lessen the severity of the illness and may help shorten the hospital stay.
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