By Katie McPherson
Does anyone stan a seasonal cold? That delightful change in weather also marks the beginning of RSV season 2019. As the days get shorter and the viruses get stronger, three docs are sharing what to watch out for, when to worry, and when to just stock up on soup and saline spray when it comes to RSV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as a common respiratory virus that typically causes cold-like symptoms, and resolves itself in a week or two. However, it can become more serious for babies, children with other health conditions, and the elderly.
“We care about RSV because it can compromise or tighten the airways, which is a bigger problem in young children,” says Jonathan Auth, MD, a pediatrician at CHOC in Orange, California, during an interview with Romper. “Children who have had RSV will be immune against that strain of RSV in the future, but like influenza, there are multiple strains.”
Mobeen Rathore, MD, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville, tells Romper in an interview that parents should be aware of heightened RSV risk during late autumn, winter, and early spring.
“RSV season in the northeast usually starts in the winter: October through March. In Florida, we have RSV almost year-round, peaking at different times in different parts of the state,” he says. “Almost all children get it by 2 years of age, or certainly by 5. You can get it as an adult too, especially if you’re immunocompromised. If you get it once, you are more protected in the future, but know you may catch the second strain.”
Your child may have RSV if they have symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, fever, and wheezing, per the CDC. The American Lung Association noted that any time your child is experiencing trouble breathing, exhibiting a low appetite, is less active than normal, or has a cough throughout the day and night, they should see a doctor right away to ensure the RSV isn’t worsening. Rathore agrees.
“Kids get viral infections all the time, and RSV is just one of them, so you can’t distinguish which virus it is without proper testing. If a child is sick with any virus, take them to the doctor. None of them can be treated, but it has to do with how sick the child is,” says Rathore. “Some kids will go on to develop more severe diseases, but these usually only happen in kids with underlying health conditions.”
Amy McCollum, MD, pediatrician Midtown Pediatrics with Children’s Hospital of Alabama, tells Romper via phone interview that most children who develop more severe cases of RSV have certain risk factors. And, fortunately, very few need hospital care.
“It’s children with RSV infections that move into the lower respiratory tract that get more sick, which is about 20% to 30% of cases. Very few get hospitalized. RSV being a viral infection, it’s more severe in a baby under 6 months of age, so if you have a baby born in the fall or winter, you need to be careful about having them out and about. There are also conditions, like chronic lung disease or heart disease, that may make you more at risk for more complicated RSV,” McCollum explains.
As with any virus, the best treatment is to never catch RSV at all. All three doctors agree that good hand washing, avoiding crowded places, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue rather than hands can help prevent transmission. Parents with immunocompromised kiddos can get more specific info on their child’s best prevention tactics from their pediatrician. In rare cases, some of these children can qualify for a monthly vaccine to prevent RSV, but only your child’s doctor can determine if they meet CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.
So, if most kids get it by age 2, it sounds like RSV may make it into your home this season. If it does, as with any virus, parents should prepare to treat the symptoms until the virus goes away on its own. That means saline spray, sucking out mucous, lots of fluids, and using disinfectants. And unlike other sicknesses, it may take a bit for it to fully disappear.
“One thing about RSV that sets it apart from the common cold is babies can cough and have symptoms for a good two weeks,” McCollum says. “If they’re well enough to be handled at home based on your doctor’s evaluation, you have to prepare to have them be sick for a long time.”
Dr. Jonathan Auth, a pediatrician at CHOC, a pediatric healthcare system based in Orange, California
Amy McCollum, MD, pediatrician at Midtown Pediatrics with Children’s Hospital of Alabama
Mobeen Rathore, MD, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville