RSV: What Parents Need to Know

I’m a mom to a bright and adventurous young toddler and I try to do everything I can to keep her happy and healthy every day. But during cold and flu season, I’m on high alert, and for good reason. According to a recent report by CNN, the 2019-2020 cold and flu season has been one of the worst ever in the United States. Doctors across the country are sounding the alarm that one illness in particular, Respiratory Syncytial Virus infection (RSV), has been spreading faster and causing more hospitalizations for children than usual.

What is RSV?

RSV is one of the many viruses that cause respiratory illness – illnesses of the nose, throat, and lungs. This virus most often occurs during cold and flu season – in the late fall through early spring months. RSV is contracted by nearly all infants in the United States by the age of two. For most healthy children, symptoms of RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections, like the common cold. A person with an RSV infection might cough and sneeze, and have a runny nose, mild headache, sore throat, decrease in appetite, and sometimes a fever. But some children (as well as older adults and those with compromised immune systems) will get very sick with RSV. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the United States. RSV can also lead to severe dehydration and dangerously high fever. Every year in the U.S., about 57,000 children under age 5 need to be treated in hospitals for RSV, according to the CDC. It can also lead to as many as 500 deaths per year. There is no cure for RSV. Even if children are hospitalized for RSV, doctors can only help them breathe better and have no medications that effectively treat it. Call your pediatrician right away if you believe your child may have RSV.

How is RSV Different from a Common Cold?

RSV comes from a different family of viruses than the common cold, called paramyxoviridae. Like cold viruses, paramyxoviridae can cause upper respiratory tract infections in people of all ages. Most healthy people recover within a week or two from the infection, but for some, including young babies, adults 65 and older, and those who have chronic heart or lung disease or a weakened immune system, RSV can be extremely dangerous and can cause severe infection. According to the American Lung Association, RSV infection during the first 6 months (and especially the first 3 months) of life may lead to wheezing and asthma later in life.

How is RSV Spread?

RSV is highly contagious. People infected with the virus are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. However, some people (such as those with weakened immune systems) can continue to spread RSV even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as 4 weeks. The virus spreads like a common-cold virus, from one person to another. It enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus can spread from one person to another in several ways. It can spread from direct person-to-person contact through saliva, mucous, or nasal discharge. For instance, if someone kisses the face of an infected child they could become infected with the virus. RSV can also spread as a result of unclean hands. The virus can survive for 30 minutes or more on unwashed hands. Additionally, RSV can spread through contaminated objects or surfaces. RSV can survive on surfaces for as long as 6 to 8 hours, so for instance if an infected person sneezes, and droplets land on a surface (such as a doorknob, countertop, toys, TV remote, etc.) the infection can be easily spread when a person touches something contaminated.

Parents and other adults can easily infect children with RSV, because the symptoms most often resemble those of the common cold, so parents and other adults may not realize they are infected with the virus but can still be contagious. They can therefore easily pass on the infection to children through close contact.

Simple Ways to Help Prevent the Spread of RSV

1. Wash your hands often.

Not only is it important to wash your hands throughout the day, there’s a proper technique to use. The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. To make sure you’re washing your hands long enough, try humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice before rinsing. Remind children to practice good hand hygiene all through the year and set an example for your children by washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, and encouraging them to do the same. I try to stick to the habit of always washing my hands and my toddler’s hands before eating, after coming inside, and after a playdate. When we’re on the go, I bring an alcohol-based sanitizer along in case soap and water aren’t available.

2. Go germ-free.

Disinfect objects and surfaces in your home on a regular basis with Vital Oxide. This powerhouse solution is a hospital-grade disinfectant that eradicates 99.999% of viruses, bacteria, and germs. As well as being a certified germ-killer, Vital Oxide is fragrance-free and safe to use around kids and pets. Don’t worry, you don’t need to disinfect every inch of your home! It’s better to focus on regularly disinfecting high-touched items and surfaces. Disinfect your child’s toys by spraying them down regularly with Vital Oxide. Other surfaces in the home that are important to keep clean include phones, tablets, keyboards, doorknobs, counters, sinks, faucets, toilets, bathtubs, and changing tables/pads. If your child suffers from an RSV infection, it’s especially imperative to disinfect their linens and mattress properly. Vital Oxide can be used to disinfect blankets, sheets, and other contaminated laundry in the washer (add ½ to 1 cup of Vital Oxide, based on the size of the load, along with your regular detergent). To disinfect a mattress, simply remove the linens and spray the mattress with Vital Oxide and let air dry.

When we’re on the go, I always bring a travel-sized bottle of Vital Oxide with me so I can disinfect restaurant tables and high chairs, public changing tables, airplane seats and tray tables, and more. It’s also handy when I need to disinfect my cell phone or my daughter’s car seat while we’re out.

3. Limit exposure to large crowds.

During cold and flu season, take measures to avoid crowded areas, as well as children and people who may be sick. Children often pass the virus to one another at school, child care center, playground, or play area. During cold and flu season, I’m always cautious about where I take my daughter to play. Luckily, we live in South Florida, so we’re able to avoid indoor playgrounds and instead stick to outdoor playgrounds and the beach during cold and flu season. If you live somewhere with a harsh winter, get creative with your playdates! Avoid the germy play area at the mall, and instead have a fun day at home with a scavenger hunt or a dance party. The possibilities are endless!

4. Stay Home When You Are Sick.

If possible, stay home from work, school, and public areas when you’re sick to help prevent others from catching the illness.


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