How do I protect a child from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

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Mark J. Sanders, MD
Pediatrics

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) season will soon be upon us, a season that typically spans from late fall to early spring. This can, indeed, be a busy time for infants and young children with RSV, with kiddos presenting to doctors' offices and emergency rooms across the country with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Children often end up hospitalized because they have difficulty clearing secretions, maintaining good oxygen levels, and drinking enough to remain hydrated.

The virus spreads from person to person like the common cold, by nose or mouth secretions transmitted through the air or on surfaces. Symptoms usually start a few days after exposure, with the illness usually lasting a couple of weeks at the most. RSV can be most problematic in the very young and very old, and in any patient with heart or lung disease or with a poor immune system.

RSV spread may be curtailed by the common-sense approach often used whenever faced with the common cold. Always try to cover a sneeze or cough with a sleeve or tissue, and wash hands frequently. Clean surfaces which may be contaminated, and try not to share items like utensils or glasses. Unfortunately, there is no antibiotic for RSV or vaccine to prevent it. But, for infants born significantly premature or children less than 2 years of age with heart or lung disease, there is a monthly shot that can be given by your doctor during RSV season to potentially prevent infection.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.