Pediatricians are reporting record numbers of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this year. After a year of social distancing, young children are catching colds and flu as they head back to school and daycare, but RSV is particularly concerning as it can result in lung infection and inflammation. If you care for young children, here are four things pediatric infectious disease physician Patrick Gavigan wants you to keep in mind.
Who is most at risk?
The early symptoms of RSV are similar to the common cold: runny nose, congestion, maybe a little cough, and these symptoms usually peak five to seven days after their onset. Although most children will have RSV before age two, premature infants, infants younger than six months, those with compromised immune systems, and those with neuromuscular disorders are most at risk for serious illness.
How do you know if an RSV case is severe?
The only way to identify RSV for sure is with a nasal swab, but fast breathing, sucking in of the stomach, and apnea─a pause between breaths─are all signs of progressing RSV. Children will also usually lose appetite or seem to be working harder to breathe while feeding.
What is the link between Covid-19 and RSV?
Although RSV rates were down during shutdowns, as we open back up, cases are rising and doctors are also seeing an increase of Covid-19 cases with RSV complications. Gavigan recommends having children wear masks if they are old enough to do so, especially older children with siblings under two who cannot wear masks.
How to prevent RSV
The lack of RSV and influenza cases last year demonstrates the efficacy of public health measures like mask wearing, hand washing, and staying home if you feel sick. Disinfect high-contact surfaces like doorknobs and countertops and, if your child is over six months, talk to your pediatrician about the flu shot.