Yes, its flu season.  But its also RSV season.  Respriatory syncytial virus is a very common respiratory pathogen in humans of all ages.  Most infections occur in the first year of life but virtually all children have had at least one RSV infection by age 2. It is highly contagious, especially for children in day care or nursery schools.  LIke influenza, its “season” is October-April and peaks in January-February.  In healthy older children and adults RSV usually causes no more than mild to moderate URI symptoms–low fevers, sore throat and headache, congested/stuffy nose, uncomfortable cough; mild supportive measures ar best for these cases.  But it can occasionally cause severe illness.   

Populations at greater risk include:

  • infants under 6 months
  • adults over age 65 years
  • premature infants under 1 year
  • infants with congenital heart or lung diseases
  • people with asthma or chronic lung diseases
  • immunocompromised people (e.g. cancer therapy or HIV)

There is a simple but accurate test of nasal secretions that will confirm RSV infection.  If your child develops more severe symptoms like rapid breathing (1 breath/second for an hour or more), retractions (skin sucking in outlining ribs and ribcage during inhaling), pale or blue lips, or inability tolerating oral fluids you should call.

Several medications are used in treating more severe cases of RSV–bronchodilators like albuterol or epinephrine, steroids (inhaled, oral, IV), and anti-viral agents.  None are universally effective and ultimately the best therapy is fluid, time, and (when necessary) supplemental oxygen.

For children in high risk groups, monthly injections of palivizumab (synagis) is very helpful.  This treatment must be arranged through your doctor’s office.

Thanks for reading, please send along questions or comments.


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