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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Updated on December 31, 2008

This is a respiratory illness caused by a member of a type of virus known as a Myxovirus (an RNA-containing virus that commonly causes upper respiratory infections and the common cold). RSV most often attacks infants and very young children; it is responsible for more than 90,000 hospitalizations and more than 4,000 deaths each year in the United States. Most cases occur in children under age four, with the peak of severe illness under six months of age, especially in infants with preexisting heart or lung conditions. RSV also can cause a serious illness in the elderly and in those with impaired immune systems.

The disease can occur at any time, although epidemics usually take place in fall and winter. The first infection is the worst, but it does not confer immunity; RSV can also cause serious colds in children who have repeat

Cause - RSV is spread via contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected patients when they cough and sneeze. RSV can spread through direct respiratory secretions on sheets, towels, and other items. In the winter, this infection is a significant problem for hospitalized children who can become seriously ill with pneumonia if they catch RSV. Air pollution and smoking irritate the lining of the throat and can make it easier to catch RSV; people who live in areas of heavy industrial pollution or live with smokers have more serious and longer RSV infections. Studies have found that many children under age one who attend day care centers have been infected.

Symptoms - Symptoms can range from a mild cold to severe pneumonia and include coughing, wheezing, runny nose, and severe fatigue. Fever is unusual in young babies. Pneumonia is most likely among high-risk patients; occasionally, the infection can be fatal to infants. Symptoms occur four to six need ribavirin. days after exposure, and may persist for a few days or weeks. In most cases, babies are not seriously ill; it affects infants under age three months the most severely, since they have a hard time breathing. All babies except those with other infections. medical problems should recover within a week. Children are infectious from 24 hours before symptoms until two weeks after the cold starts. Adults are infectious for a much shorter time, until about five days before the cold starts.

Complications - RSV can cause bronchiolitis in infants under age one, pneumonia in babies under age two, or croup in children from six months to three years of age. beginning each November. Premature babies who have poorly developed lungs may be quite ill and may survive with permanent lung damage.

Diagnosis - RSV is usually diagnosed on the basis of symptoms; lab tests may be used in cases of severe illness and in special outbreak investigations. If a child has a bad cold, it's not likely that the pediatrician will test for RSV in an office visit. Children admitted to a hospital with pneumonia or bronchiolitis will be tested for the disease.

Treatment - There is no cure for this virus. Rest, high humidity, and clear fluids can help. The antiviral drug ribavirin will help a child recover if started in the first few days after symptoms appear. Treatment is reserved for the most serious cases because of potential side effects; an expensive medication, it is given in the hospital as a mist treatment. Most hospitalized children with RSV do not need ribavirin.

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