Human respiratory syncytial virus (patient information)

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Human respiratory syncytial virus

Overview

What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?

When to seek urgent medical care?

Diagnosis

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Human respiratory syncytial virus?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. It can be more serious in young babies, especially to those in certain high-risk groups.

What are the symptoms of Human respiratory syncytial virus?

Symptoms vary and differ with age. They usually appear 4 - 6 days after coming in contact with the virus. Older children usually have only mild, cold-like symptoms, such as cough, stuffy nose, or low-grade fever. Infants under age 1 may have more severe symptoms and often have the most trouble breathing. In general, RSV symptoms include:

  • Bluish skin color due to a lack of oxygen (cyanosis)
  • Breathing difficulty or labored breathing
  • Cough
  • Croupy cough (often described as a "seal bark" cough)
  • Fever
  • Nasal flaring
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stuffy nose
  • Wheezing

What causes Human respiratory syncytial virus?

RSV is the most common germ that causes lung and airway infections in infants and young children. Most infants have had this infection by age 2. Outbreaks of RSV infections most often begin in the fall and run into the spring. The infection can occur in people of all ages. The virus spreads through tiny droplets that go into the air when a sick person blows their nose, coughs, or sneezes. You can catch RSV if:

  • A person with RSV sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose near you
  • You touch, kiss, or shake hands with someone who is infected by the virus
  • You touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contamined by the virus, such as a toy or doorknob.

RSV often spreads very rapidly in crowded households and day care centers. The virus can live for a half an hour or more on hands. The virus can also live for up to 5 hours on countertops and for several hours on used tissues.

Who is at highest risk?

The following increase the risk for RSV:

  • Attending day care
  • Being near tobacco smoke
  • Having school-aged brothers or sisters
  • Living in crowded conditions

When to seek urgent medical care?

Refer to a health professional in case you think you are developing symptoms of the illness.

Diagnosis

Many hospitals and clinics can rapidly test for RSV using a sample of fluid taken from the nose with a cotton swab.

Treatment options

Antibiotics do not treat RSV. Mild infections go away without treatment. Infants and children with a severe RSV infection may be admitted to the hospital . Treatment will include:

  • Oxygen
  • Moist (humidified) air
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)

A breathing machine (ventilator) may be needed.

Where to find medical care for Human respiratory syncytial virus?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Human respiratory syncytial virus

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Rarely, RSV infection can cause death in infants. However, this is unlikely if the child is seen by a health care provider in the early stages of the disease . More severe RSV disease may occur in the following infants:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants with chronic lung disease
  • Infants whose immune system does not work well
  • Infants with certain forms of heart disease

Possible complications

In young children, RSV can cause:

  • Bronchiolitis
  • Croup
  • Ear infections
  • Lung failure
  • Pneumonia

Sources

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001564.htm


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