Awareness, prevention keys to reduce spread of RSV

| November 19, 2012 | 0 Comments
A Soldier demonstrates proper hand-washing etiquette, i.e., washing hands in warm water with soap for 20 seconds or more, which is one of the best ways to help prevent the spread of RSV. (Photo courtesy Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs)

A Soldier demonstrates proper hand-washing etiquette, i.e., washing hands in warm water with soap for 20 seconds or more, which is one of the best ways to help prevent the spread of RSV. (Photo courtesy Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs)

Pacific Regional Medical Command
News Release

HONOLULU — Even with Hawaii’s moderate temperatures, the fall and winter seasons usher in an increase in colds and respiratory infections, to include respiratory syncytial virus, a common infection that can cause more serious illness in some patients.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages.

RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in infants and young children, but RSV can cause respiratory illness in people of any age.

“Although RSV infects thousands of people each year, certain individuals are at risk for severe disease,” explained Dr. (Maj.) Megan Kloetzel, deputy chief, Department of Preventive Medicine, Tripler Army Medical Center. “This includes premature infants, children under 2 years old with chronic heart or lung disease, people age 65 or older, or people of any age who have a weakened immune system.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, RSV infections generally occur in the U.S. from November to April. However, the timing of the season may differ among locations and from year to year.

Symptoms of an RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections. A person with an RSV infection might cough, sneeze, have a runny nose, fever and decrease in appetite. Wheezing may also occur.

In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection.

According to the “Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal,” an estimated 125,000 infants in the U.S. each year are hospitalized with severe RSV, which is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations. By the age of 2, almost all children are infected with RSV at least once.

“RSV is a virus that causes epidemics of cough and colds every year,” explained Dr. (Col.) Martin Weisse, chief, Department of Pediatrics, TAMC. “Most kids get a very runny nose and frequent cough, with or without fever. About one out of 10 babies with RSV may need to be in the hospital, and then usually for one to three days. RSV is spread like other cold viruses, so hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers will decrease spread.”

According to the CDC, infants, children and otherwise healthy people infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days of infection. Most will recover in one to two weeks. However, even after recovery, very young infants and children with weakened immune systems can continue to spread the virus for one to three weeks.

Currently, no vaccine protects against RSV. To help prevent the spread of RSV, people who have cold-like symptoms should practice prevention:
•Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
•Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15–20 seconds.
•Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when hand-washing is not available.
•Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others.
•Avoid spending time with infants, young children or other high-risk patients while ill.
•Refrain from kissing others.

Tricare beneficiaries who are concerned about RSV or who would like a family member to be evaluated should schedule an appointment with their primary care provider.

Parents or guardians of pediatric patients should call their child’s clinic or doctor’s office if the child is breathing too fast or having trouble breathing, isn’t eating and drinking well, or has fever for more than a couple of days.

A prompt emergency room visit is warranted if an affected individual is turning blue, has severe difficulty breathing or very rapid breathing, has periods of no breathing (apnea), is lethargic, or is unable to tolerate fluids by mouth for hydration.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the U.S. Each year, 75,000 to 125,000 children in this age group are hospitalized due to RSV infection. Almost all children are infected with the virus by their second birthday, but only a small percentage develop severe disease.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections. A person with an RSV infection might cough, sneeze, have a runny nose, fever and decrease in appetite. Wheezing may also occur. In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection.

Most otherwise healthy infants infected with RSV do not need to be hospitalized. In most cases, even among those who need to be hospitalized, hospitalization usually lasts a few days, and recovery from illness usually occurs in about 1 to 2 weeks.

Who is at risk for severe illness?

Premature infants, children less than 2 years of age with congenital heart or chronic lung disease, and children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment are at highest risk for severe disease.

Adults with compromised immune systems and those 65 and older are also at increased risk of severe disease.

When is the risk for infection the greatest?

RSV infections generally occur in the U.S. from November to April. However, the timing of the season may differ among locations and from year to year.

How can I provide care?

There is no specific treatment for RSV infection. However, there are simple ways to help relieve some of the typical symptoms. Your doctor can give advice on how to make people with RSV infection more comfortable and assess whether hospitalization is needed.

How is RSV spread?

RSV can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. Coughing and sneezing send virus-containing droplets into the air, where they can infect a person if they inhale these droplets or these droplets come in contact with their mouth, nose or eyes.

Infection can also result from direct and indirect contact with nasal or oral secretions from infected persons. Direct contact with the virus can occur, for example, by kissing the face of a child with RSV. Indirect contact can occur if the virus gets on an environmental surface, such as a doorknob, that is then touched by other people. Direct and indirect transmissions of virus usually occur when people touch an infectious secretion and then rub their eyes or nose.

(Editor’s Note: Q&As are courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.)

RSV

Learn more about the respiratory syncytial virus at www.cdc.gov/rsv.

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Category: Community, Health

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