by Dr. Joanna Storey

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common pediatric virus that can cause serious respiratory illnesses in babies and children.  Older kids and adults can get a bad cold from RSV, but in our smaller patients, RSV can infect the lungs, causing fever, wheezing and cough.  This clinical syndrome is known as “bronchiolitis.”

In a normal year, pediatricians are used to seeing RSV cases spread in the community from October through March.  The old adage is, “The fair brings it to town,” because it seems to show up right around the time of the Mississippi State Fair each fall. But this year we’ve all had to adjust to expecting the unexpected as far as infectious illness is concerned and cases of RSV started popping up in our clinics in April.  As we’ve rolled into the summer, we’ve seen more and more of it at Children’s Medical Group.

The worst of RSV symptoms usually last between 5 and 7 days and our youngest patients with the smallest airways suffer the most.  The chest congestion, inflammation and mucus production caused by the virus can affect their ability to breathe and stay hydrated.  Frustratingly, there’s no therapy to prescribe that reduces that duration of the illness.  Occasionally, babies and toddlers with RSV require hospitalization to support them through the illness. 

So what to do if your infant or child has been diagnosed with RSV:

  1.  Control fever with Tylenol as needed.  (After 6 months of age, ibuprofen can also be used.)
  2. Encourage hydration as much as possible.  Breast milk or formula if fine for infants but if these fluids seem to increase mucus production, switch to Pedialyte.  It’s okay for older babies and toddlers not to eat solid food if they don’t have an appetite, but they need to keep taking in liquids.
  3. Watch out for signs of respiratory distress including rapid breathing or increased chest or abdominal movements while breathing.
  4. Avoid contact with others outside your home, especially toddlers and infants, until your child no longer has fever and her cough is much better.
  5. If you are concerned your child may be getting sicker, especially if he is working hard to breathe, vomiting frequently, refusing to drink much or not voiding very much, get in touch with us right away.  As always, we are open for acute care 7 days a week.
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