Saturday, April 8, 2023

Respiratory syncytial virus in children: symptoms and treatment

What is respiratory syncytial virus?

Respiratory syncytial virus is an infection that can have severe consequences for children under the age of two. However, this is rare because the majority of children recover from the disease without problems.

This type of infection is more common in winter and spring. It causes respiratory symptoms similar to the common cold. However, there are children in whom respiratory syncytial virus follows bronchitis and pneumonia. So it is important to be vigilant.

RSV symptoms usually go away within five to seven days. Most children get it before the age of three. It should be noted that it generates short-term immunity, so that the disease may reappear.

Why is RSV dangerous to infants?

In some cases, severe infection may occur. Although this disease can occur at any age, it tends to be more severe in infants.

This is because babies' airways are not well developed. Therefore, they cannot cough up mucus like a more mature body. This can lead to a more serious problem called bronchiolitis, or even pneumonia. Children most at risk of contracting respiratory syncytial virus are those who meet the following criteria:

  • Very young infants, less than 6 months old.
  • Premature or low birth weight infants.
  • A child under two years old with chronic lung disease.
  • A child under two years old has heart problems.
  • Infants whose immune system has been weakened by illness or other treatment.
  • Children with neuromuscular disorders, especially if their swallowing or phlegm is limited.
  • Exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy or passive smoking at home.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus tends to affect children under 3 years of age.

The main symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus:

The symptoms of RSV are very similar to those of the common cold.
However, it is important to closely monitor the progression of the infection to detect any signs of worsening:
  • Fever
  • Dry cough or phlegm.
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • sneeze
  • irritability
  • lack of appetite
  • Low energy

The appearance of other, more severe symptoms is often a sign that the infection has worsened.
Symptoms indicating this are:
  • rapid or difficult breathing
  • The nostrils are widened.
  • The rib cage sinks, forming a "V" while breathing.
  • Lethargy or slow movements.
  • The child is more sleepy than usual.
  • Sometimes the child stops breathing.

Possible complications:

The main complication occurs when respiratory syncytial virus disease progresses to bronchiolitis. It is an inflammation of the small airways of the lung. The bronchi can also become inflamed and cause bronchitis.

In more serious cases, the infection progresses to pneumonia, that is, an infection of the lungs. It can be life threatening. It is estimated that for every 100 children infected with RSV, two will require hospitalization. They may need oxygen, intubation, or assisted breathing.

A child is also at risk of becoming dehydrated if he does not get enough fluids. It is therefore important that he continues to take breast milk or powdered milk, water and other fluids if tolerated.

When do you consult a doctor?

Worsening symptoms usually appear between the third and fifth day after the onset of the disease. Call your doctor if your child has one or more of the following symptoms:
A very high fever that does not go away.
Thick nasal secretions.
Cough that worsens and is accompanied by expectoration of yellow, gray or green secretions.
The baby wets less than one nappy every eight hours, which is a sign of dehydration.
Difficulty breathing or stopping breathing.
Visible lethargy or a marked decrease in the child's activity.
Restless sleep or lack of sleep.

Diagnosis and treatment of respiratory syncytial virus:

Most often, the pediatrician diagnoses RSV infection based on the child's symptoms. This examination will be followed by a detailed physical exploration. If in doubt

In some cases, an oxygen saturation test or chest X-ray may also be needed. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment begins. The goal is to relieve symptoms and prevent complications. The following measures are generally used:


If necessary, medications are used to help open the airways. Sometimes antiviral medications are also prescribed.


When a baby has difficulty breathing, supplemental oxygen may be needed to prevent further complications.

Intravenous hydration:

It is used when a child shows signs of dehydration or problems eating or drinking.

Since the infection is severe, the best way to prevent it is to keep the child away from crowds or contact with sick people. Breastfeeding is an excellent antidote against all kinds of infections.