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Pediatrician Discusses Children's Seasonal Virus

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This has been regarded by many as a long winter. But as we head into the near end of this miserable season, there have been a lot of people stricken with the flu virus. However, there is another common and highly contagious seasonal virus that has impacted nearly 100 percent of children by their second birthday. This virus is called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

RSV is similar to the common cold in some ways, but its differences should cause all parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the virus. Currently, it's peak season and according to the CDC, dozens of states are infected with RSV at epidemic levels.

Dr. Paul Checchia, Professor of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine, talked to Brandi Walker about this virus, what symptoms should parents should look for to protect their children from it, and how much it has impacted Illinois families.

1. What is RSV, and what are the risk factors for developing severe RSV disease? What symptoms should parents look for and flag for their child’s pediatrician?

RSV is a common, seasonal virus contracted by nearly 100 percent of infants by the age of 2. RSV occurs in epidemics, typically from November through March in most of the U.S., but the “RSV season” can vary by geography and from year to year. RSV disease is the leading cause of hospitalization for babies during their first year of life in the U.S. It causes approximately 125,000 hospitalizations and up to 400 infant deaths each year in the U.S. It also results up to 10 times as many infant deaths each year than the flu. Lastly, it is responsible for one of every 13 pediatrician visits and one of every 38 trips to the ER in children under the age of 5.

Potential signs of severe RSV disease that parents should not ignore include: coughing or wheezing that does not stop, fast or troubled breathing spread-out nostrils and/or a caved-in chest when trying to breathe, bluish color around the mouth or fingernails, and fever (especially if it is over 100.4°F (rectal) in infants under 3 months of age).

2. What are the causes of this virus?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common seasonal virus that is extremely dangerous to infants. It is very contagious and can be spread easily through touching, sneezing and coughing. Additionally, the virus can live on the skin and surfaces, such as countertops, tissues and toys for hours. It occurs in epidemics, typically from November through March in most of the United states, including Illinois.

3. Who is at high risk for contracting severe RSV disease?

In most healthy babies, RSV presents relatively mild symptoms and the virus runs its course within two weeks. Certain babies, however, are at an increased risk of developing a serious respiratory infection from RSV, especially babies born prematurely (both before 37 weeks gestational age) who have undeveloped lungs and fewer antibodies to stave off the virus. Pre-term infants are twice as likely as full-term infants to be admitted to the hospital for RSV-related symptoms. Other common risk factors include low birth weight (less than 5.5 lbs), chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease or weak immune systems.

4. How many Illinois families have been impacted?

According to CDC surveillance data, RSV hit epidemic levels in Illinois in December and remains at 21 percent of tests being reported positive. Illinois parents need to know that their infant’s seasonal sniffles may be more than a common cold. In fact, studies show that only about one-third of mothers have ever heard of RSV.

5. What prevention methods can parents take to protect their children from contracting RSV?

There is currently no treatment for RSV infection once it is contracted, so prevention is critical. All parents – and especially parents of high-risk babies – should learn steps they can take to help protect their children from contracting RSV. Preventive methods include: washing your hands and asking others to do the same, keeping toys, clothes, blankets, and sheets clean, and avoiding crowds and being around people, including young children, who may be sick during RSV season. Ask your child’s pediatrician if he or she may be at high-risk and ways you can protect a high-risk baby.

To learn more about the signs, symptoms and risk factors of RSV disease, as well as additional prevention tips, please visit



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