While the New Year brings new beginnings, it also means we’re in the middle of flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, RSV causes close to 58,000 hospitalizations and 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than five years old.
To get the facts about RSV, we sat down with Michael Coffey, MD. Dr. Coffey is a physician at the Pediatric Clinic at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany.
What is RSV disease?
“RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, and to put it most simply, it is similar to the hundreds of other viruses that we blame for the “common cold.” The reason we worry so much more about RSV, however, is that it has the ability to cause a much more serious illness in children than most other viruses. In younger children in particular, RSV can cause an illness similar to pneumonia that can require hospitalization.”
Is RSV contagious?
“Absolutely! Like other viruses, RSV can be spread quite easily, most often by a child who is coughing, sneezing, or drooling. You often have to be in the same room as someone who is infected to catch it, but as the weather gets colder, the virus is able to survive longer (up to several hours) on toys, counter tops, and anything else an infected child comes into contact with.”
Who can contract RSV?
“Anyone and everyone can develop an infection due to RSV. Unfortunately, being infected once or more will not protect you from getting the infection again, though it may make your symptoms milder in the future. Again, we worry so much about children developing an RSV infection because their symptoms are often more severe, and because they typically spread it more easily to others.”
What are the signs of RSV?
“In an adult, RSV will cause “cold symptoms” such as cough, runny nose, and sore throat. Children less than one year of age may also develop more severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and wheezing. These symptoms are due to RSV’s ability to spread to infants’ lungs, where it causes either pneumonia or bronchiolitis. These children are much more likely to require hospitalization to be treated with IV fluids and oxygen.”
When is RSV season?
“Like ‘flu season,’ this can change from year to year, but RSV season is typically from November through April, with a peak number of cases in January and February.”
How do I prevent RSV?
“Always, always, always, wash your hands; this is the best way to prevent spreading any virus between contacts. Older children and adults should always cover their cough to reduce the risk of spreading an infection to younger children. Also avoid tobacco smoke exposure as this significantly increases the risk for you and those around you of developing a respiratory infection.”
Michael Coffey, MD is a physician at the Pediatric Clinic at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital. Along with outpatient specialty services, the Hospital is home to Oklahoma’s only inpatient pediatric rehabilitation hospital. Patients receive a wide variety of services, from 24-hour medical care to special education to therapy. If you would like to donate to patient services, please click here.