As if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t made life complicated and scary enough for the past two years, now parents are constantly hearing that their kids are at risk of contracting RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.
We got some great advice, perspective and reassurance from Dr. Amber May, pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente.
RSV is not a new enemy. It has been here all along, and May concurred with a CDC statement that virtually all kids have had RSV by the time they are 2. Because of the isolation and precautions made necessary by COVID, there weren’t as many RSV cases the past couple of years. We all were exposed to fewer illnesses, and young immune systems didn’t develop as much resilience as they normally would have. Now RSV is “back with a vengeance this year,” said May.
RSV can be particularly dangerous for newborns and infants.
May treats babies and kids at Seattle Children’s hospital and in the urgent care department at Kaiser’s Capitol Hill facility. “This is exactly what I’d expect after two years of widespread isolation.”
RSV in kids: the symptoms
RSV starts out very similar to a cold, with infants and young children the disease usually launches with a fever, runny nose and cough.
RSV becomes severe or dangerous when it affects a baby or child’s ability to drink, eat and breathe. In fact, according to May, a sign of RSV infection is when the “work of breathing” becomes more difficult and requires the child to exert their belly muscles. In addition, a baby will often pull away from breast or bottle because it’s not possible to breathe and eat at the same time, and an older child may show a loss of appetite, fatigue and faster, labored breathing.
One technique May suggests, particularly for babies, is what she calls the “snot sucker” technique. First, use nasile saline to loosen phlegm; next, use a nasal aspirator to suction it out. “Since they’re too little to blow their nose, you’re basically blowing it for them.” She advises doing this before feeding to make it easier.
Severely labored breathing, dehydration or weakness are warnings to seek medical help as a child might require breathing support or IV hydration in the hospital.
Tips for avoiding RSV in kids
The good news is that we’re all very familiar with steps to lessen our risk of infection. These include frequent hand washing, wearing masks, staying away from people if we are sick or they might be sick.
May says she explains it like this to her young daughter: “By wearing a mask, you protect yourself from anyone who might be sick; and you protect them from you if you are sick.”
May says these precautions are particularly important for families with kids under 6 months old or people who are older or immune-compromised.
In addition, with COVID still among us and the flu on its way, doctors are pleading with people to get flu shots and get current on COVID boosters.
With the holidays on the way, Nov. 10 is the ideal time to have all of this accomplished. That way you have two weeks before Thanksgiving to get the full immunity provided by the vaccines.
RSV in kids: reassurance
From Dr. May: “I want people to know that, of the patients we’re seeing in clinic and in urgent care, most are having very good outcomes and good recoveries.”
And more good news: There is talk that an RSV vaccine could be available as soon as next year.