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Along with snow and muddy boots, Utah’s winter months also bring sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. One cause of these cold-like symptoms in young children is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Although this virus is usually minor, RSV can sometimes progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia—so it’s important for parents to be aware of the warning signs.
RSV is a very common virus, and virtually all children will be infected with it in their first year or two. Since RSV infection doesn’t provide complete future immunity, re-infection can occur repeatedly throughout a child’s lifetime. RSV is transmitted through the mucus or saliva of the person who is infected—for example, through sneezing, coughing or hand-to-mouth contact.
The typical signs and symptoms of RSV resemble the common cold—runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and fever. In children that are otherwise healthy, the virus may not progress further. The majority of children with RSV improve with rest and fever medication. However, if your infant or toddler develops more severe signs such as wheezing, rapid or labored breathing, difficulty eating, or a blue tint around the lips, see your pediatrician to assess your child for further treatment.
Infants who are premature or who have certain medical problems (such as congenital heart disease, chronic lung disease, or impaired immunity) are at greater risk for more severe RSV infection and may need to be hospitalized for treatment.
As with most common illnesses, the best prevention is good hygiene—such as thorough hand washing and using tissues when coughing or sneezing. If your infant or toddler is at greater risk for RSV complications, you may want to take extra care to avoid people with colds during the peak months (November to April). Infants in this high-risk category can also be given a monthly prescription injection of antibodies called Synagis. Contact your pediatrician for more information about this preventive therapy.
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As a pediatrician and father of six kids, Dr. Bartholomew has a lot of experience with twins and premature infants. In addition to getting to know his patient families, he enjoys the great outdoors, Dr. Seuss, and BYU football.