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Charles Sprague, M.D.​
Boys Town Pediatrics

Virtually, every child in the world by two years of age is going to have had RSV. It's a very, very, common respiratory infection. It can hit all ages, but for the most part it affects our younger kids the most. Very seasonal, it hits us very, very hard in the winter. We can start seeing it as early as November through probably as late as April. But the bulk of it is going to be in the deep winter: January, February, March. It's going to spread like wild fire through day cares, but anywhere were there are kids congregating it's going to spread, it's going to be there. It comes through every winter. You can count on it.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

RSV early is going to present like any normal cold. So your first several days of RSV it is going to look like simple clear runny nose, little bit of cough, maybe a little harsh quality to the cough, but nothing more significant than that initially. Maybe, perhaps, some low grade fevers. In most kids, it won't progress any more than that. And you will run into 10 to 14 days with those types of symptoms. But for a significant number of kids, about 3 to 4 days into the illness it will drop down to the lower airways of your chest. And at that point it becomes what we call, bronchiolitis, or infection of your bronchioles. And that is where the big complications really come from.

What is the treatment for RSV?

Treatment is frustrating for most families in that it's what we call supportive care. There really is no definitive therapy to correct the RSV, or to cure you of the RSV. Once you have it, it is going to run its course for a couple of weeks. And unless it has complications the viruses do not respond to antibiotics. You just keep the nose suctioned out as aggressively as you can, you provide fluids, and you nurture them through it.

Is there a vaccine for RSV?

There is a vaccine available. It's called Synagis, but it is for select groups. The kids we know are going to have problems are kids that are born pre-maturely, the very, very small infants, kids with pre-mature lung disease, and kids with heart disease. They are the ones that are at risk to have a bad outcome, or a very complicated case. Those kids can be protected with this vaccine. For the rest of the population it is not really a viable option.

How can RSV be prevented?

People get tired of hearing it, but first and foremost hand washing, good hygiene, good hand washing. RSV can live for quite a long time on surfaces so it really becomes very vital that you are washing your hands keeping surfaces cleaned up.

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is one of the most common viruses that causes respiratory tract infections, especially in children under the age of 4 years. Dr. Charles Sprague, pediatrician with Boys Town Pediatrics, explains the symptoms of RSV, how RSV is treated, and how you can help prevent your child from getting RSV.