This winter has been dreadful for viruses in children, from COVID-19, the flu, hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), to gastroenteritis, and the common cold. If your family has managed to dodge any of those, you’re one of the lucky ones.
Another virus that you may not have heard of before having a baby is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Children are presenting to hospitals with it at alarming rates this year.
In babies under one year, it is most severe and potentially life-threatening in a minority of cases. For children this young, RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and croup.
Here is everything you need to know about RSV, including what the virus is, how it’s spread, the symptoms to look out for, how to get it diagnosed, and finally, the treatment and prevention.
RSV is a highly contagious virus, and is the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children.
The infection spreads from an infected person to another person while talking, coughing, or sneezing. It also spreads through hand to hand contact or through contact with items that contain mucus of an infected person. Finally, it can be picked up from hard surfaces (such as toys and cups), and survives for several hours on hard surfaces, and for 30-60 minutes on unwashed hands and tissues.
This means that it can spread easily in environments like childcare centres.
Once your baby has been exposed, they may develop symptoms around five days later. Normally, the symptoms in children are mild and cold-like, which can be some or all of the following:
Most cases of RSV are mild and can be treated at home, as you would a cold. Ear infections are also common. You know your baby best, so trust your instincts if they don’t seem well. Take your baby to a doctor if:
Call an ambulance or go immediately to emergency if your baby is having trouble breathing, is breathing very quickly, or is turning blue.
Some babies will need to go to hospital if they contract RSV. There is currently no vaccine for it but trials are underway. If your baby has a fever or is having any of the above symptoms, see your doctor immediately or go straight to emergency. You can’t be too cautious.
Your doctor will confirm the diagnosis through blood tests or through tests of the mucus from their airways or nasal passages.
Children can take from 8-15 days to recover from RSV.
Children with RSV can be contagious for 8 days from the start of their symptoms. It can be difficult to stop the spread, however practicing good hygiene will help avoid passing any virus onto others: