Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)


Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) questions and answers are below regarding the dangers of RSV for premmies.

What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
RSV is a very common virus that causes cold-like symptoms that can trigger chronic breathing difficulties if the lungs become involved

Who is at risk?
Babies born premature and those with a low birth weight. Also babies with a congenital heart disease; or chronic lung disease. While adults and healthy children can normally cope with the mild cold-like symptoms of an infection, at risk infants are at a high risk of being admitted into hospital. In babies who are born prematurely or who have lung or heart complications, RSV may cause life-threatening conditions requiring intensive care.

How common is RSV?
RSV is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants and young children. Up to 90 per cent of bronchiolitis hospitalisations and up to 50 per cent of hospital admissions caused by winter pneumonia are caused by RSV. Diseases of the respiratory system account for the highest proportion of all admissions to hospital in children aged 1-14 years, according to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

What is the worst time of year to catch RSV?
The risk of catching an RSV infection in Australia is at its highest from May to October.

How dangerous can RSV be?
RSV kills more than 160,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

What are the symptoms of RSV?
RSV typically begins with a mild fever, runny nose, and sore throat, mild cough, blocked nose and ear infection. Signs of more serious disease include wheezing, difficulty breathing and trouble eating, drinking or sleeping.

In premature infants, infants with congenital heart disease, chronic lung disease, or a compromised immune system, RSV can cause serious respiratory complications, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

In healthy adults and older children, RSV usually causes only a mild cold. After three to five days symptoms may worsen as the virus spreads to the lungs. These include breathlessness, rapid breathing, wheezing and a strong cough. RSV can also cause acute viral croup and viral pneumonia.

How is RSV spread?
RSV is transmitted easily from person to person through physical contact, coughing and sneezing. RSV can live for 30 minutes or more on hands and for several hours on surfaces such as doorknobs. Because RSV spreads so easily, infection control is very important, particularly in individuals at high risk for infection.

What can parents do to prevent RSV?
There are simple steps parents can take such as:

  • Washing hands with soap and water before touching your baby
  • Avoiding people with a cold or fever ~ Using a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of it immediately
  • Keeping your baby away from other people with coughs and colds, particularly during the RSV season. If your child is at high risk, try to avoid crowded environments
  • Washing toys used by children who have symptoms of a cold. Viruses can live on the surfaces of tables and toys for several hours. Discourage other people from kissing your baby
  • Not exposing your baby to a smoky environment from cigarettes, either in your home, or outside
    Seeing your doctor if symptoms persist.

Why are premmie babies most at risk for RSV infection?
Pre-term infants are at the highest risk for serious RSV infection and related hospitalisation. Premature infants have underdeveloped lungs, which can be a contributing factor to increased risk for RSV disease and cardiopulmonar complications. Infants with a congenital heart disease (structural or functional defect in the heart that is present at birth) or a chronic lung disease are also at increased risk of developing severe RSV disease, hospitalisation and death. Other risk factors for severe RSV disease include low birth rate (less than 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds) and a compromised immune system. Other contributing factors are exposure to tobacco smoke, having school-age siblings, attending daycare and living in crowded conditions.

If my little one gets RSV will my baby need to be admitted to hospital?
This will depend on how badly your baby is affected by the virus. The reason babies with RSV are admitted to hospital is because of increasing breathing difficulties. If you baby is admitted to hospital he or she may need respiratory support if severe breathing problems develop.

If my baby has already had RSV can they be infected again?
Unfortunately being infected once does not protect your baby from becoming infected again with RSV.

Are there any long-term effects from getting RSV as an infant?
Some babies with RSV continue to have recurrent respiratory symptoms throughout childhood. It is estimated that, of all the babies admitted to hospital with the disease, 30 per cent will still suffer recurrent wheezing episodes 10 years later. Some may develop into asthma.

Is there any thing else I can do to prevent my baby from getting RSV?
There is no vaccination against RSV. However, there are drugs which can prevent RSV. Synagis is one such drug. You should talk with your doctor to obtain further information.

(Reproduced with permission from the National Premmie Foundation)

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