“We’re seeing five to seven cases of RSV a week in our Emergency Department,” said Denise Dickens, R.N., Lake Regional’s infection preventionist. “About 60 percent of those have been pediatric cases and 40 percent have been adults.”

You’ve probably heard by now that there’s a flu epidemic in this country, but you might not know other respiratory illnesses are also hitting hard. One of those illnesses is RSV.
“We’re seeing five to seven cases of RSV a week in our Emergency Department,” said Denise Dickens, R.N., Lake Regional’s infection preventionist. “About 60 percent of those have been pediatric cases and 40 percent have been adults.”
For most people, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is an aggravation, causing mild, cold-like symptoms. But RSV can cause serious illness in children younger than 2 years old. Older adults and those with chronic heart or lung disease and those with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk for serious illness.
RSV is highly contagious. It spreads through coughs and sneezes and can survive on hard surfaces for several hours. Frequent hand-washing will help lower the risk of infection, but it’s hard to guard against airborne attacks.

Why Is RSV Worse for Infants?
In infants, RSV is a leading cause of bronchiolitis. Bronchioles are tiny airways that lead to the lungs. When infected, these airways can swell and fill with mucus. RSV also can lead to pneumonia, or infection of the lungs.
“Adults might end up with a cough or other chest cold symptoms, but in infants, it doesn’t take much swelling of the bronchioles to make breathing more difficult,” says Pediatrician Jason Hagely, M.D., who cares for patients at Lake Regional Clinic – Osage Beach. “Any parent who has watched a baby with RSV labor to breathe knows this can be a scary sickness. Given the right care, most infants will recover fully. But it’s important to know when to seek medical attention.”

How is RSV Treated?
Most cases of RSV in children older than 3 months do not develop into a serious illness and can be treated at home. Nasal saline drops and suctioning can help clear a stuffy nose, and fever and pain can be treated with over-the-counter medicines, with a health care provider’s approval. Some more severe cases of RSV may need additional support, such as a nebulizer for breathing treatments. Oral steroids, including Prednisone, generally are not recommended for RSV because they can make symptoms last longer.
“Parents need to monitor infants closely for signs of dehydration, which include a dry mouth, fewer wet diapers and sunken eyes,” Dr. Hagely says. “If these signs appear, seek medical attention. Also seek medical attention for rapid breathing — more than 60 breaths per minute — or signs of labored breathing, which include flared nostrils and unusual chest movements where the chest seems to cave inward.”
If an infant is hospitalized for an RSV-related illness, treatment might include oxygen therapy, fluids to prevent or treat dehydration, and respiratory support.
Most RSV illnesses last about a week but the cough often will linger for several weeks.
“Almost all children are infected with RSV at least once by the time they are 2 years old, and most cases are not severe,” Dr. Hagely says. “So, parents, it’s no reason to panic. Just be aware of the warning signs of a more serious infection, and if concerned, seek care.”  

RSV in Adults
For older adults and those with chronic health conditions, the danger usually lies in RSV leading to pneumonia. RSV also can lead to congestive heart failure.
“There are very few medications available to fight viral illnesses, so the best defense is to keep your immune system as strong as it can be,” said Alan Wilson, M.D., from Lake Regional Emergency Department. “Get plenty of rest, eat well and take your vitamins. Take all medications prescribed by your doctor, and keep up-to-date on all immunizations, including those for pneumonia and influenza. If you have signs of respiratory illness, visit your doctor as soon as possible.”
To find a physician, visit www.lakeregional.com/physicians or call the physician referral line at 573-348-8385.