What is RSV?

Kirk Coverston, MD
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common virus that affects many people during the winter. Statistically, nearly 100% of people have had RSV once by the age of 2 years old.

What is the concern with RSV?
It is a real concern for the very young, elderly, premature infants, asthmatics and those with chronic lung disorders. It usually starts as a runny nose and cough, but it can be dangerous and severe, causing bronchiolitis, pneumonia, apnea and death.

What are the symptoms? When is the peak season?
RSV usually starts with a runny nose for 2-3 days and then a cough develops. It can last 1 to 2 weeks and can be self-limiting. Supportive care with over-the-counter medications for older children can help. The majority of babies and children will recover well and you will never even know that they had RSV. The peak season for RSV is January through March.

When should I be concerned about my baby?
I usually see the biggest changes and concerns in infants less than 6 months of age, or premature babies on day number two or three of the illness. Starting with the severe, runny nose and cough, the illness descends into the chest causing bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways of the lungs). This is the leading cause of pneumonia in babies less than one year of age. If you look at your child’s chest wall, you can see retractions (skin sucking in under and between the ribs), or they are breathing very fast and have poor color (bluish undertones). For the premature infant, apnea (cessation or stopping of breathing) is a very serious concern. Seek medical attention immediately for any of these types of symptoms.

Should my child be checked for RSV?
Once we are in full RSV season, a positive RSV test doesn’t change the treatment or outcome. If you are concerned, you should have your pediatrician evaluate your child.

Are there any preventive measures that can be taken against RSV?
Yes, wash your hands, keep babies away from those that are sick, and sanitize counter tops and doorknobs when needed to maintain good hygiene. For some at-risk infants, there is a vaccine that can help prevent RSV called Synagis (Palivizumab). However, insurance companies now have stricter and tighter guidelines and have made it more difficult to obtain this medication for our fragile, high-risk infants. So if you are sick, please stay away from infants.

(Kirk D. Coverston MD, is a Board-certified pediatrician, with his private practice at Visalia Medical Clinic in Visalia. His practice covers all of general pediatrics from newborns to adolescent,s with a special interest in behavioral pediatrics, ADHD and chronic medical conditions.)