What you need to know about RSV

Sometimes all it takes to treat the common cold is rest and a lot of fluids, but that doesn’t always work for everyone.

In some cases, a cold can lead to a more serious medical condition called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.

“Every person by the age of 2 has been infected with RSV,” said Family Medicine Dr. Dallas Peterson with Summit Healthcare Snowflake Medical Center. “It’s just that most people have a cold from it and others have more severe reactions.”

This virus causes infection of the respiratory tract anywhere down from the nose to the lungs. RSV tends to occur during the winter and early spring months.

“We usually think of RSV as affecting children under 5, but it does affect older children and adults,” Peterson said. “Their cases are more mild.”

Those at high risk include babies less than a year old born prematurely, infants under 6 months and children with asthma or reactive airways disease.

“A running nose, little bit of a cough or a low-grade fever might make parents be a little more alert of their child’s condition, but signs there is something more serious would be a high fever, a severe cough and retractions,” Peterson said. “Retractions are when you look at the baby’s chest and can see the skin sort of sinking in when they breathe either above the collar bone, between the ribs or underneath the rib cage in the upper abdomen.

“If you see any signs where the baby looks blue in the face, lips, nose, hands or feet, those are also indicators that this condition needs to be dealt with right away,” Peterson continued.

If not treated, other medical issues that can arise include pneumonia and bronchiolitis, where the infection affects the tiny bronchial air tubes causing them to swell and fill with mucus.

“If you hear wheezes, the infant needs to be treated with what are called bronchodilators,” Peterson said.

This is medicine given through a nebulizer.

“The nebulizer blows the foggy medicine, like albuterol, into their face,” Peterson said. “They breathe it in and the medication goes down and soothes the muscles that live in the airways to help open them up where they can breathe better.”

When it comes to the oxygen saturation, “We usually evaluate them by putting on a pulse oximeter,” Peterson said. “We want that to be above 90 percent. If below that number the infant is taken to the hospital for more supportive care.”

Since the virus is extremely contagious and can be transmitted from person to person, Peterson had a few tips to try and prevent RSV.

“Cough hygiene is important,” the doctor said. “Cough into the inside of your elbow and make sure to cover your sneeze.”

Washing your hands on a regular basis is also a must, especially before picking up a young child, as well as disinfecting toys, tabletops and doorknobs.

“The virus can live on hard surfaces for several hours,” Peterson said.

Peterson also added that the elderly and adults with weak immune systems suffering from asthma or COPD should also take extra precautions.

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