Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) isn’t the flu, but its cold- and flu-like symptoms are surging in children, say infectious-disease specialists at UT Southwestern Medical Center. RSV is the leading cause of viral respiratory infections and hospitalizations in infants and children worldwide.
“RSV can cause bronchitis and pneumonia in several high-risk groups. These include prematurely born infants, children with heart disease or immune deficiencies and children up to 3 years of age who suffered from asthma or any other chronic lung ailment within six months prior to showing RSV symptoms,” warns Dr. Asuncion Mejias, assistant professor of pediatrics.
Half of all babies develop an RSV infection within the first year of life and practically all have had at least one RSV infection by age 3, says Dr. Octavio Ramilo, professor of pediatrics. About 3 percent to 10 percent of infants with RSV infections develop severe bronchitis and require hospitalization.
Most children recover within a week, but RSV can cause repeated infections throughout life. There is no vaccine available.
Dr. Mejias says you can help prevent infection by maintaining high nutrition, washing hands regularly, keeping those infected away from children, and not taking infants to areas of potential infection. Also, regularly cleaning bathrooms, other home and day-care surfaces, toys and eating utensils are effective steps in limiting exposure to RSV.
Monthly intramuscular injections of RSV-fighting antibodies are recommended for treating some higher-risk children during the fall-to-spring RSV season. Children with heart disease can be hospitalized and treated with high doses of aerosolized ribavirin within 48 hours of infection.
“RSV is mild to most adults, but elderly folk and others with immune deficiencies are at high risk for severe RSV impact,” says Dr. Ramilo.
Drs. Mejias and Ramilo recently conducted a study in mice that suggests that RSV may hide in the lungs even after other symptoms abate, ultimately resurfacing to cause recurrent wheezing and chronic airway disease.
“This research suggests that there’s a potential new mechanism for asthma related to viral infections in children that could be associated with RSV,” says Dr. Mejias. “These findings could aid in the development of preventive and therapeutic interventions.”
The most striking finding, Dr. Mejias says, is that the amount of virus detected in the lungs of the mice directly correlates with the severity of airway hyperreactivity. Airway hyperreactivity, or episodes of bronchospasms in humans, is the main characteristic of asthma.
Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/pediatrics to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in pediatrics.
Media Contact: Kristen Holland Shear
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