While the flu epidemic seems to be making the most news these days, I'm actually seeing RSV (respiratory synctial virus) causing some serious illness among my patients.
After another long day in the office with tons of wheezing and coughing and tow babies sent to the intensive care unit, I decided to take a look at the national RSV statistics. Guess what, most of the country is still in the throes of RSV season (Florida is lucky as their rates are on the decline). So I know that most of my pediatric colleagues across the country are dealing with RSV (respiratory synctial virus) and we are still several weeks away from declining viral rates and the end of the RSV season.
I am seeing many parents who are fearful of RSV because their child's day care or school have sent home notices letting them know that there are cases of RSV. I am still confused by the need to send out notices which may only scare parents.
At this time of year, RSV is virtually everywhere. RSV is a virus that occurs every fall, winter and often into early spring. It causes cold symptoms for most of us, and most of the population (both child and adult) can never name the virus that caused their terrible runny nose and cough.
By the time a child is 2 years old the majority of them (upwards of 90%) have had at least one RSV infection. Again, most parents never need to know the name of the virus that is causing their child to have that terrible cough and runny nose. It is just another bad cold!
But, with that being said there are children, especially those under the age of 2 who will have more problems with RSV. In some cases, especially in young infants, the virus will cause not only a runny nose, congestion and coughing, but wheezing as well, and in a few, respiratory distress. It is in those cases that we name that tune and test to confirm that the baby has RSV.
Our office does not routinely test every child with a cough, runny nose or even all of the kids that are wheezing to see if they have RSV. (If we did we would be testing almost every child!) We only do the test on the sickest children that end up needing to be hospitalized. The real reason behind the testing is to confirm our suspicions and to follow the epidemiology of the disease during RSV season.
The treatment of the symptoms does not really change based upon the confirmation of RSV. Other respiratory viruses such as rhinovirus and metapneumovirus are also lurking out there this winter wrecking havoc with coughs, colds and wheezing as well.
So once again, don't worry about naming the virus or rush to the doctor because your next door neighbor's child or a friend in day care has been diagnosed with RSV. Rather, pay attention to your child's symptoms and how they are breathing and handling the virus. RSV is still around will hopefully move out of the country in the next 6 weeks. But guess what, it will surely return next year too. Keep covering those coughs and washing hands!