Now that the temperature in Thailand is relatively cooler, we need to be vigilant about nasty viruses that spread easily in cold weather. We already know that influenza proliferates in low temperatures, but parents with young children should also watch out for signs of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Various cases of RSV infected children admitted to the ICU were reported across Thailand over the past 2 months. This common winter viral illness is usually benign for healthy adults but can be highly contagious for children. In fact, it is the most common cause of respiratory illnesses for young children and infects almost all under-2s. Symptoms are usually mild but may be severe and even life threatening in children with risk factors (congenital heart or lung diseases, weakened immunity and premature infants). RSV bronchiolitis can also lead to increased risk of developing asthma in later childhood.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
The symptoms of RSV that parents should look out for are similar to those of a common cold, and include:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite (both eating and drinking)
- Difficulty breathing, such as wheezing or panting
In severe cases, RSV can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia, especially in babies less than one year old.
How is RSV transmitted?
As with colds and the flu, RSV is transmitted through personal contact such as kissing or touching, through droplets spread by coughing or sneezing or through touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs. A common route to infection is when older children pick it up at school and pass it on to younger siblings at home without knowing.
The incubation period is 4-6 days after infection and then the infected person can spread the virus for several weeks.
How to prevent RSV?
To protect your child from RSV, follow these common-sense hygienic activities:
- Wash hands with soap regularly and thoroughly
- Cough or sneeze in elbow or tissue
- Clean surfaces and toys, and wash clothes and bedding regularly
- Maintain social distancing with people with cold symptoms
How to treat RSV?
At the moment, there is no vaccines for RSV. For mild cases, no special treatment is required; just take these precautionary steps:
- Do not send your child to school and keep the child at home
- Make sure your child drink plenty of liquids (small amounts throughout the day to prevent dehydration
- Clean stuffy nose
- Clean surfaces regularly to prevent mould and bacteria growth
- If you use a humidifier, clean it daily according to the instructions of the machine
- Inform the child’s school so they can warn other parents of the potential danger of transmission
If you notice that your child has difficulty breathing, consult a doctor without delay. Diagnosis for RSV at the hospital is usually done with a cotton swab to the mouth or nose. In extreme cases which are fortunately not too frequent, hospitalization may be necessary for treatment with an intravenous drip, extra oxygen and medication to open the airway.