Respiratory Syncytial Virus is most common in children, but can also affect adults. RSV is an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract that causes congestion, sore throat, fever, headache, and more. Often, people who have RSV associate the symptoms with the common cold. Most cases of RSV are mild, showing few symptoms and not requiring treatment. However, some cases are severe enough to hospitalize a patient. There is not a vaccination to prevent RSV, but it’s suggested to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and to wash hands frequently.
How RSV Spreads
As with many different types of virus, RSV is spread through airborne or direct contact. If an infected RSV patient coughs or sneezes, the virus can pass through to another person’s body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s recommended to wash surfaces and hands frequently when RSV-infested germs land on hard surfaces; the virus can survive for hours. Also, watch out for shaking hands or touching countertops, crib rails, or toys containing RSV germs, as it is an easy way to catch the virus.
Symptoms: Adults and Older Children – Mild Cases
Symptoms typically occur four to six days after the body comes in contact with the virus. Mild cases of RSV are often the same as the common cold including, congested nose, coughing without mucus, sore throat, mild fever, and headaches. Mild cases are most common in adults and older children.
Symptoms: Adults and Older Children – Severe Cases
Severe cases of RSV occur when the virus spreads to the lower respiratory tract, which causes inflammation of small airway passages leading to the lungs. This is when pneumonia or bronchiolitis develops. Signs of severe RSV are fevers, severe cough, difficulty breathing, wheezing when breathing out, and lack of oxygen causing the skin to appear blue.
Unlike adults and older children, RSV cases in infants are often severe. The most common sign of RSV in infants is struggling to breathe. Other symptoms include rapid breathing, coughing, lack of appetite during feedings, and irritability. It’s also important to watch for dehydration. Dehydration symptoms in infants are lack of tears when crying, little or no urine, and cool and dry skin.
Preparing for Appointment
When heading to the doctor’s office with symptoms of RSV, make sure to prepare ahead of time. Make a list of all symptoms and the time they started. It’s also important to have a list of medical history including medications and allergies. Since the time spent with doctors is very short, it would be beneficial to write down any questions you have, to ensure they all get answered.
Medical providers can diagnose RSV through an exam or tests. If diagnosed through an exam, doctors listen to the lungs for wheezing or abnormal sounds. If nothing appears different when listening to the lungs, doctors can order tests such as blood tests, chest x-rays, secretions, or skin monitoring. Blood tests show viruses or bacteria through white cell counts, chest x-rays show any inflammation of the lungs, secretions will reveal the virus, and skin monitoring detects levels of oxygen in the blood.
Treatment: Mild Cases
Mild cases of RSV often go untreated. However, if diagnosed the doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicine to relieve fever and saline drops to clear nasal congestion. The doctor may also recommend antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection. It is always recommended to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. While waiting for the virus to pass, make sure to look for signs such as sunken eyes, extreme irritability, or sleepiness to make sure conditions do not worsen.
Treatment: Severe Cases
If severe cases occur, patients may be required to stay in the hospital to receive treatment. The most common hospital treatments include IVs filled with fluids, humidified oxygen, and ventilation to control breathing. Healthcare providers may also prescribe patients with severe RSV an inhaled medicine. This medicine is more effective for patients with low immune systems than oral medication.
Treatment: Home Remedies
The best home remedy to treat RSV is to distract or comfort the infected person. Using a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizers will create moisture in the air, relieving congestion and coughing. Around 50 percent humidity is recommended indoors. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and loosen secretions. Soup and popsicles are a great alternative to drinking plain water. Try taking over-the-counter saline drops and pain relievers. Saline drops are a safe way to reduce congestion of all ages. Over-the-counter pain relievers will help soothe sore throats and fevers.
The best way to prevent RSV is to do what you’ve already been told, wash your hands! Whether you touch a surface that has the RSV virus or come in direct contact with an infected person, washing hands frequently will reduce the risk of catching RSV. Likewise, it’s also important to keep surfaces clean, including kitchen and bathroom countertops, crib rails, and toys. Remember not to share drinks with others. If in a group setting, use a marker to label each person’s drink.