Virus Can Be Serious for Youngest Children

Tifani Kinard

Note: The following item was submitted by Atrium Health Floyd for publication. It was provided by Tifani Kinard, Vice President for Rural Health. -KtE

We all know the symptoms and treatment for sicknesses like the common cold. But have you heard of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)? RSV is a very common virus that infects the respiratory tract of most infants and children before they’re two years old. Cases have been on the rise in northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama.

RSV infects the nose and throat as well as the bronchial tubes that carry oxygen to the lungs. By the time most children are 2 they have typically had the virus, but they can get it again and again. Often the severity of it decreases as children age.

It is not uncommon for children younger than six months with RSV to get inflammation and swelling in their lungs, which is a problem because their bronchial tubes are already small.

As children get older, they get immunity from previous infections and their airways are bigger, so they are less likely to experience severe symptoms. That is why the infection among older children can often represent itself as a bad cold.

 The first time an infant has the infection, they have no immunity so the child cannot fight or get rid of the infection as quickly as an older child who has likely been infected several times and has built up immunity.

There are some RSV symptoms that parents should be on the lookout for in infants under 6 months:

  • Fever
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Cough and difficulty breathing

Very young children may become dehydrated because of trouble eating due to nasal congestion and difficulty breathing. The infection also can cause inflammation and swelling, as well as “shedding” of the lining of the mucus. This causes the cough.

Rapid breathing is a sign that the child is not getting enough oxygen. Typically, the fever and nasal congestion start first. The illness often peaks on day 4-5 and at that point it is important to look for rapid breathing.

There is no vaccine for RSV. Parents are advised to suction out your child’s nose if needed, make sure they are well hydrated and control their fever. Sometimes albuterol, a medication taken by people with asthma, can be used to open airways, but that does not necessarily work for all babies.

Synagis, an antibody, can be used for tiny patients at highest risk:

  • Very premature infants in their first 6 months of life during RSV season
  • Infants with congenital heart disease
  • Infants who have chronic lung disease that requires oxygen or other significant support

For those children, the antibody must be given monthly during RSV season (November-March) with the goal of preventing hospitalization.

The best way to protect your baby is to make sure anyone handling the baby washes their hands well so they cannot transmit the infection. Also, do not allow others to kiss the baby on the mouth or the hands.

If you need a refresher on proper handwashing techniques, here are some tips:

  • Wet your hands using warm or cold running water.
  • Apply soap to the palms and backs of your hands, between your fingers and as far as you can under your fingernails. Scrub thoroughly. A good guide is to hum the Happy Birthday song twice.
  • Rise using warm or cold water.
  • Dry thoroughly.

Call your pediatrician if your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.

About Atrium Health Floyd

Since 1942, Floyd, now Atrium Health Floyd, has worked to provide affordable, accessible care in northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama. Today, Atrium Health Floyd is a leading medical provider and economic force. As part of the largest, integrated, nonprofit health system in the southeast, it is also able to tap into some of the nation’s leading medical experts and specialists with Atrium Health, allowing it to provide the best care close to home – including advanced innovations in virtual medicine and care. At the hub of these services is Atrium Health Floyd Medical Center, a 304-bed full-service, acute care hospital and regional referral center. Atrium Health Floyd employs more than 3,400 teammates who provide care in over 40 medical specialties at three hospitals: Atrium Health Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia; Atrium Health Floyd Cherokee Medical Center in Centre, Alabama; Atrium Health Floyd Polk Medical Center in Cedartown, Georgia, as well as Atrium Health Floyd Medical Center Behavioral Health, a freestanding 53-bed behavioral health facility, also in Rome; and a primary care and urgent care network with locations throughout the service area of northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama.

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