Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common seasonal respiratory infection caused by a group of mucosal viruses that invade the respiratory system and destroy the lining tissues of the airways in the lungs, causing inflammation in the respiratory system. It often affects children under the age of three and infants. This virus is highly contagious and spreads more efficiently during the first few days or weeks of the appearance of symptoms. The transmission of the infection may continue for up to four weeks after the appearance of symptoms in some children and individuals with weakened immune systems. The disease can be transmitted through close contact with the patient, such as through coughing or sneezing, which releases virus-filled droplets into the air and can enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, it may only cause upper respiratory tract infection or middle ear inflammation, while in others, it can cause pneumonia.
Early symptoms after the end of the incubation period of the respiratory syncytial virus include irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the upper respiratory tract, leading to congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
Severe symptoms occur when the virus reaches the lower respiratory tract and include coughing and difficulty breathing due to the obstruction of the airways. This can worsen to the point of causing breathing difficulties in infants and fever, lethargy, and middle ear inflammation, while in others, it can cause pneumonia. The duration of the illness depends on the severity of the infection. If the disease is mild, it can disappear within 5-7 days. However, if the infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract, it often results in persistent coughing and phlegm production, and in some cases, phlegm can be withdrawn from the patient’s lung intermittently for two to three weeks.
The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cause severe complications, especially in children with weakened immune systems. The most common complications include inflammation of the small airways in the lungs and pneumonia, a common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one. Some symptoms can be severe in adults or older individuals, or people with chronic heart or lung diseases. RSV can also cause severe respiratory infections, including bronchiolitis. In some cases, the condition can recur during the same season, but the severity of symptoms may vary and be similar to those of the common cold and flu.
As the coronavirus that causes respiratory infections is a type of virus, antibiotics will not help. The illness is similar to a common cold in mild cases and does not require medical treatment. The doctor may advise maintaining hydration by drinking fluids and eating a healthy diet regularly, even with a decreased appetite. Other tips include blowing the nose with tissue paper to keep the airways open or gently suctioning excess mucus from a baby’s nose.
Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers can be used with the doctor’s consultation if the child is experiencing them. Adequate rest and sleep should be taken, and there should be no smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. In severe cases, the patient may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids if they cannot eat or drink enough, receive extra oxygen, or undergo intubation by inserting a breathing tube through the mouth into the airway with mechanical ventilation. In most of these cases, recovery continues for only a few days.
Prevention is the only way to avoid infection without treatments or vaccines for this virus. It involves regularly washing and sanitizing hands and avoiding close contact with anyone experiencing symptoms resembling those of a cold or flu. Maintaining good hygiene is one of the most important preventive measures, and children should be taught how to wash their hands properly and encouraged to do so frequently. For children most susceptible to the virus, doctors recommend monthly injections of Palivizumab, which contain antibodies against the respiratory syncytial virus, during the peak season of its spread. These children have weakened immune systems, were born prematurely, or are infants with other health problems.
The following steps and procedures should be followed to reduce the spread of infection:
- Wash hands and sanitize them continuously before touching or feeding the child. If the child is older, they should be taught how to wash their hands properly.
- Maintain cleanliness and continuously ventilate the home.
- Emphasize not to visit anyone with symptoms similar to the flu; if anyone in the household has them, they should not approach the child or share a room with them.
- Do not share the child’s cup, spoon, or other items that can transmit infection.
- Do not smoke or be exposed to secondhand smoke at all.
- Clean and sanitize toys continuously, which is extremely important because the virus can be transmitted to them during the disease’s incubation period, which is before the child’s symptoms appear.