RSV Season: How to Guard Against Respiratory Syncytial Virus

RSV Season: How to Guard Against Respiratory Syncytial Virus

We hear a lot about cold and flu season, but another affliction is common, especially for babies younger than two years old: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This virus attacks the lining of the airways and the lungs, leading to various symptoms.

Dr. Nick Hysmith, medical director of Infection Prevention at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, shares information about preventing and treating RSV, as well as how to prepare for RSV season.

RSV Dangers Among Young Children

If adults develop RSV, they typically don’t have many symptoms; most likely a head cold and all that goes with it (runny nose, cough, congestion). Even kids of school age tend to have milder symptoms, mimicking a cold. However, young kids’ respiratory airways are much smaller, so RSV can lead to difficulty breathing and sometimes hospitalization.

“The most admissions and the most respiratory illness occurs in kids younger than two. We really see those hospitalizations go up in kids who are younger than one, as well as kids who have underlying medical conditions, such as chronic lung disease or any kind of congenital heart disease,” states Dr. Hysmith.

RSV Prevention and Treatment Options

Several RSV vaccines have been approved recently, including ones that can be administered to children aged eight months and younger. Dr. Hysmith is hopeful these vaccines will dramatically reduce hospital admissions in the coming months. As more and more children become vaccinated, the theory is RSV will be less prevalent in the coming years.

Innovative treatment options are also in the works, one of which is being studied at Le Bonheur among children diagnosed with RSV. “The vaccines will prevent the hospitalizations and the acquisition of RSV, and once kids have RSV, we'll look to drugs like we're testing in the Enanta study that will actually help treat RSV in these smaller kids. We’re very excited about that study,” said Dr. Hysmith.

The Diagnostic and Treatment Process

Most of the RSV patients at Le Bonheur present first in the Emergency Department, similar to other hospitals across the country. They are evaluated for RSV with a quick test. If that test is positive, physicians do a risk assessment based on the child’s age.

If they're younger than two years of age, the likelihood is that they'll be admitted to the hospital for a few days, because RSV is often worse on the third day of illness. “We like to watch those kids who are younger than two just a bit longer. The provider comes in and evaluates breathing to make sure oxygen levels are what they should be,” explains Dr. Hysmith.

Based on that information, they may be admitted to the hospital. Or, if they are stable and it's later in the illness, many are able to be discharged home. “It's a viral illness we've dealt with for decades, so we have a really good way of treating it,” he adds. “But, the new vaccines are really going to hopefully prevent this from even being an issue.”

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