We all know that with winter comes cold and flu season, but winter poses another more serious health threat – respiratory syncytial virus. RSV, as it's commonly called, is a virus that many times leads to mild cold-like symptoms. It is the most common germ that causes lung and airway infections in infants and young children, and it is very contagious. While RSV generally is harmless to most adults and healthy older children, it can be fatal to infants born prematurely, babies with chronic lung disease and certain forms of heart disease, babies whose immune systems do not function normally and children with asthma or other preexisting chronic breathing problems.
"Infants who contract RSV may be three times more likely to develop asthma in later childhood," said James L. Sublett, M.D., pediatrics and allergy and immunology. "For older children who already have asthma, RSV often leads to asthma attacks and hospitalizations.
"It is important for parents to take precaution during RSV season, which is typically fall, winter and early spring, and learn to recognize the warning signs and seek medical treatment immediately," said Sublett, clinical professor and the section chief of Pediatric Allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all children will be infected with RSV by their second birthday. Take these steps to help prevent your baby from getting RSV:
- Insist that others wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before touching your baby.
- People with colds or fever should avoid contact with your baby.
- Be aware that kissing your child can spread RSV.
- Keep young children away from your baby, as RSV is very common and spreads easily from child to child.
- Do not smoke near your child. Exposure to tobacco smoke increases the risk of RSV.
- Sanitize frequently touched surfaces using disinfectant. RSV can live for 30 minutes on hands and up to five hours on other surfaces, such as countertops.
- A prescription medication, Synagis (palivizumab), is approved for the prevention of RSV in children younger than 24 months who are at high risk. Ask your doctor if this medication is appropriate for your child.