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Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Respiratory syncytial virus (Latin name)

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

RSV is a cold virus. With larger children RSV causes a regular common cold while a lot of children, less than three years old, develop asthmatic bronchitis. RSV is untreatable, there is, however, an effective treatment against asthmatic bronchitis. You must call the doctor immediately, if the child has trouble breathing.

Many different viruses can cause common cold. If you examine 100 children with common cold, RSV is the cause of 25 cases. Many parents are worried and afraid about their child having RSV but there is seldom reason for worrying.

With larger children and adults RSV leads to a regular common cold that disappears by itself in the course of two weeks. It is with children younger than three years old that RSV can cause troubles. Around half of all young children develop symptoms of bronchitis – squeaking from the chest and hissing breathing (asthmatic bronchitis).

Fever, coughing and a running nose are typical signs of common cold. A common cold begins with queasiness, headache and a stuffy nose. After one to two days a clear secretion starts to run from the nose – this may later thicken and become yellow. Coughing, sneezing, a sore throat and fever are common. With young children the temperature can go as high as 40ºC while larger children only have a slight fever or none at all.

With most children the fever disappears in the course of one week and the cough in the course of two to three weeks. With young children with asthmatic bronchitis, the cough can persist for more than one month. If the child has asthmatic bronchitis, the doctor can prescribe medication that will help. The smallest children, less than six months old, with asthmatic bronchitis can have so much trouble breathing that they are admitted to a hospital – luckily, this is rare (3-5%).

Complications in the form of pneumonia and inflammation of the middle ear are visible but very rare. These sorts of complications must be treated with penicillin.

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RSV is highly contagious. The risk of infections is greatest right before the illness breaks out and the first days thereafter; there is therefore no reason to isolate the child. You must expect that every child in day care will be exposed to RSV contagion every winter. Contact with young children less than six months old should be avoided as long as the child is ill.

Day care:
The child is kept at home until the temperature is normal and the child can participate in its usual activities without extra care.

What can you do?

Even though you cannot cure a common cold the symptoms can be relieved. A stuffy nose is uncomfortable for the child and can lead to inflammation of the middle ear or sinusitis. To being with you can raise the bedhead with bricks or books (20 cm), so that the head is higher than the rest of the body when the child sleeps. If this does not help you can administer a decongestant.

Contact the doctor tomorrow

If the child continues to cough or have a fever after the nose has stopped running. If the child has hissing breathing or squeaking from the chest.

Contact the doctor immediately

If the child is drowsy (lies still in bed and does not want to hear stories or play). If the child has trouble breathing.