RSV and Bronchiolitis
Nearly all children will battle RSV at some point
before age two. The contagious virus is a common
cause of bronchiolitis, the leading reason for
hospitalization of infants in the United States.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia in young children. Bronchiolitis is the leading reason for hospitalization of infants in the United States, with more than 100,000 admissions annually.
Bronchiolitis is usually seen from December through April. It is a viral infection that begins in the upper respiratory system and then progresses to involve the lower small airways of the lung, known as the bronchioles. These tiny airways become swollen and filled with mucus, making it very difficult to breathe.
Bronchiolitis can be caused by other viruses, such as influenza (flu), rhinovirus and human metapneumovirus (HMPV). So it is often more important to treat a child’s symptoms than to determine whether they were caused by RSV or a different virus.
“Most children don’t need testing for which virus is causing the illness,” said Lalit Bajaj, MD, who treats bronchiolitis in Children's Hospital Colorado Emergency Department. “Testing for RSV does not change the course of the illness or how it is treated in the vast majority of kids.”
Bronchiolitis is a viral infection, and antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. Treatment usually involves hydration and ensuring the baby’s breathing passages remain clear.
Nearly all children will battle RSV at some point before age two, and most cases are mild. However, bronchiolitis can be serious and require a visit to the hospital. Parents should seek medical attention if their child has difficulty breathing, a high fever, lips or fingernails that appear blue or a cough that continues to worsen or produces yellow, green or gray mucous.
“Parents of kids with heart, lung or immune system problems need to be careful during the winter,” said Gwen Kerby, MD, in the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado. “RSV is highly contagious. It spreads easily in schools and daycares in the cold winter months when everyone is indoors.”
Viruses like RSV are often transmitted by close contact with secretions on the hands, so frequent hand washing is the best defense against infection.
Resources for Parents
No healthcare situation is the same for all children, so parents and guardians should consult with their pediatrician or family practitioner to determine the best course of action for their child.