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What is RSV? 
Well, those letters stand for Respiratory Syncitial Virus (popularly known as RSV), and this is a a virus that usually affects infants and young children.

Signs and symptoms:
The signs and symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus infection typically appear about four to six days after exposure to the virus. In adults and older children, RSV usually causes mild cold-like signs and symptoms. These include:

  • Congested or runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Mild headache

This virus can pose a serious threat to infants and premature babies.  They have small airway passages and lack the strength to expel the congestion  and secretions caused by this infection in their lungs. Infants may actually visibly struggle for breath, drawing in their chest muscles and the skin between their ribs, and their breathing may be short, shallow and rapid. They may cough. Or they may show few, if any, signs of a respiratory tract infection, but will eat poorly and be unusually lethargic and irritable.

The child may also have a hoarse cough and a very congested rattling in the chest, which often worsens during the night. Depending upon the severity of the symptoms and the condition of your child, you may call your pediatrician for advice. If the symptoms are acute and worrisome, your pediatrician may want the baby evaluated immediately, even after-hours.

There are no known medicines or antibiotics to treat the RSV virus. It is a self-limiting disease in most older children but may pose a serious, even life-threatening, risk to infants and younger children. It may mimic Asthma and may be more severe in those with a pre-existing condition of Asthma. A RSV vaccine exists, however this RSV vaccine is available only to a select group of preemies and those with some serious underlying diseases.

If your doctor’s advice is for you to observe your child, know that there are a few things you can do to help your baby stay comfortable while keeping a close and keen watch for any new or worsening symptoms.

  • Steam may help open nasal and bronchial passages for easier and natural breathing.
  • Small babies may be able to breathe better in a running hot shower steam while in your lap. Use appropriate care to keep the baby safe from hot water.
  • A short burst of exposure to steam (10 minutes) followed by breathing cooler air may be beneficial. This cool/hot air breathing environment may help restore normal or easier breathing.
  • A cool air humidifier may also help. Position the humidifier so the child is breathing the cool mist. Use clean water and change it at least once a day to prevent any bacterial or fungal growth.

Be sure to keep a very close watch on your baby. Your pediatrician should know if any deterioration of symptoms or any new symptoms appear.  Having a child with breathing issues can be a scary experience. Know that oftentimes just by keeping a watchful eye and keeping your child comfortable, symptoms ease in a majority of patients. Of course, as with most conditions in Pediatrics, seeking appropriate medical advice in a timely manner is paramount.