We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most common causes of lung infection in children1. By the time a child reaches two years old, they will most probably have already been infected. While adults can also become infected, children and infants are usually more commonly infected due to the immaturity of their immune systems.
The sounds of an RSV cough may be similar to the common cold, sounding wet from the mucus. However, in some cases where it can cause severe disease, the RSV cough sound involves labored breathing or wheezing.
Read on to learn more about respiratory syncytial virus, symptoms to watch out for, and the best treatment for this condition.
Initially, infection with the respiratory syncytial virus may appear like a common cold2. The child may have nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, fever, and a sore throat. Irritability, fatigue, and difficulty breathing are possible symptoms in infants. Usually, the symptoms last for just a few days to a week or two.
However, if the symptoms persist for longer than that or if you observe any of the following symptoms, these may be signs of a potentially more severe infection3:
These signs tell us that the infection may have reached the lungs. This is concerning as it can lead to pneumonia or bronchiolitis. In these cases, you should definitely consult your child’s pediatrician.
Respiratory syncytial virus is usually spread through contact with infected fluids from another person4. This may happen if they touch a contaminated surface or toy and then touch their eyes, face, or mouth. The virus may also spread if they inhale the droplets from an infected person who sneezes or coughs. It is because of this that outbreaks in daycare and school are very common, as the virus can easily spread in such environments.
The symptoms of mild respiratory syncytial virus infection usually mimic that of the common cold. Because of this, and in most cases, your child will not need testing to make the diagnosis5. Your doctor will conduct a thorough history and physical examination, also taking into account your child’s age and the time of year.
When required, the usual tests requested may include a complete blood count or a mouth swab to check for viral infection. For a severe infection requiring hospitalization, additional tests like a chest x-ray or CT scan may be warranted to check for complications of the disease. Urine and blood cultures may also be performed, as urinary tract infections may occur simultaneously with this disease due to the impaired immune system.
Treatment will depend on your child’s age, symptoms, and overall health status. In mild cases, the best treatment at home is to make your child as comfortable as possible6.
General measures you can do to hasten your child’s recovery include:
Avoid the following:
For severe cases needing hospital treatment, treatment is primarily supportive9. Management may include:
Antibiotics are not usually used as they function against bacteria, not viruses.
Regardless of treatment, it is best to have a comprehensive discussion with your physician regarding the most appropriate management. Feel free to ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding the disease, its diagnosis, management, and even future prevention. It is truly difficult to see your child in distress, but taking these steps to educate ourselves will definitely pay off in the long run.
Infants and young children are at greatest risk of respiratory syncytial virus infection10. An estimated 58,000–80,000 children younger than five years old require hospitalization due to this disease. Specifically, the children we need to watch out for include:
We should keep a closer eye on these children as they are most likely to get sick. By being aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease and knowing who is more likely to get infected, early treatment and the right management can be initiated in a timely manner.
While we would want to avoid possible complications of respiratory syncytial virus infection, it is still helpful to know the potential outcomes of this disease11. This includes:
These can cause a severe impact on health as well as financial burden down the line. This is why it is important to take note of symptoms early and consult your doctor right away to prevent the development of these complications later on.
There is no vaccine to combat the respiratory syncytial virus; one is in the works, but it will be some time before it is available to the public12. Luckily, simple habits like the following can help prevent the spread of this disease13:
The small steps we take everyday can not only promote you and your child’s health, but also the other children they interact with in the school and community. In the bigger scheme of things, prevention will always be better than cure.
Respiratory syncytial virus infection is a common childhood infection of the lungs. It can manifest with symptoms similar to the common cold including fever, cough, runny nose, and sore throat. While symptoms are expected to last for only a few days to a week or two and may be treated at home, signs of severe infection should be observed. These include difficulty of breathing, flaring of the nostrils, and worsening symptoms. Treatment is generally supportive, with the aim of improving comfort as the child’s immune system battles the virus.
This disease can be prevented by frequent handwashing, avoiding exposure, and regular disinfection. Consult your doctor if you think your child may be sick with the respiratory syncytial virus.
Mikaela is a dentistry clinician at the University of the Philippines.