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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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RSV Season: It's Here

Tens of Thousands of U.S. Kids Hospitalized Each Year With RSV Infection

High-Risk Kids

The virus is particularly dangerous for some children, including:

  • Kids younger than 2 years who've recently been treated for chronic lung disease.
  • Kids with heart disease.
  • For their first RSV season, premature infants born at less than 32 weeks' gestation.
  • For their first RSV season, premature infants born at 32-35 weeks' gestation who have two of these additional risk factors: attending day care; exposure to environmental pollution; having a school-aged sibling; being born with abnormal airways; or neuromuscular disease (such as muscular dystrophy).

These high-risk kids may benefit from preventive treatment with monthly doses of an anti-RSV antibody product called Synagis.

RSV Treatment and Prevention

Kids with mild RSV infection need nothing more than symptomatic treatment. For example, they might take acetaminophen (Tylenol is the most common brand name) to reduce fever.

Kids with severe RSV disease may need oxygen therapy and treatment with an antiviral drug called ribavirin. Sometimes mechanical ventilation is needed. Kids with immune deficiencies and severe RSV disease may be treated with intravenous anti-RSV immune globulin and ribavirin.

And it's not only kids who are at risk. Elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems also risk serious RSV disease.

For a disease this common and this serious, you'd think there would be a vaccine. But making an RSV vaccine has turned out to be a major problem. One reason is that the normal immune system may overreact to RSV. That's why a simple RSV vaccine tested in the 1960s was a disaster. It made this immune storm worse, so kids with RSV exposure actually got sicker.

The quest for a safe RSV vaccine continues. Meanwhile, there's one good way to avoid RSV infection: Wash your hands. Yes, this means frequent hand washing, with soap and warm water, gently scrubbing the hands for the time it takes to sing the alphabet song.

Unfortunately, it doesn't do any good to keep kids with colds out of school or day care if they're feeling well enough to go back. RSV spreads typically during the early stages of infection.

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