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RSV - What Parents Need to Know

Thursday, January 17, 2013 - Campus News - Contact Theresa Green, (405) 833-9824

This year, The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center has already seen a lot of babies and children with RSV, the acronym for respiratory syncytial virus.  Since late November, the hospital has seen about 50 children a week.  From December 30, 2012 until January 5, 2013, the number of children with RSV seen at Children's hit 60.

RSV causes infection of the lungs and breathing passages.  It's also a major cause of respiratory illness in young children and is especially dangerous in babies less than three months of age. There is no approved vaccine, and treatment options are very limited.

"In healthy adults, RSV usually is not severe. We may get symptoms similar to the common cold, such as a stuffy or runny nose, cough, or mild wheezing.  However, in babies and those who have diseases that impact their lungs, heart or immune system, RSV can be quite serious, leading to complications like pneumonia and bronchiolitis that are severe enough to require hospitalization" said Robert Welliver, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist with OU Children's Physicians.

33-year-old Mikala Watkins of Del City knows all too well how serious RSV can be in a young child. Her baby Sophie was only 10 days old when she started experiencing symptoms of a cold.

"It was just a stuffy nose, but she was too young to take medicine. So I took her to the doctor who said she wasn't breathing right. And told me that 'if it was my baby, I would take her right to Children's Hospital,' and so I did," Watkins said.

Within just a few minutes of arriving at the Children's Emergency Room, Sophie was evaluated and admitted to the hospital. Watkins had heard of RSV before, but had no idea how serious it could be.

"I thought they would just give her antibiotics and we would be fine, but they explained it is a virus and so it has to run its course," she said.

RSV is the number one cause of pneumonia and lower respiratory infections in children under the age of one.

"For children with mild disease, there are no specific treatments necessary. Instead, we would focus on helping alleviate symptoms.  However, children with severe disease may require oxygen therapy and even mechanical ventilation," Welliver said. "That's why prevention is so important for very young children.

 RSV infections often occur in epidemics that last from late fall through early spring.  In Oklahoma, January to February is the heart of RSV season.

"It is highly contagious. It can live briefly on surfaces like countertops or toys and on hands. So, when a person touches those surfaces and then touches his nose or mouth, they can easily infect themselves or pass the infection on by touching another person. It also can possibly be spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes" Welliver said.

RSV can spread very rapidly through schools and childcare settings. Babies are often infected when older siblings carry the virus home and pass it on to them.

Prevention strategies for RSV are similar to those for influenza, Welliver explained. They include:
•  Frequent hand washing (hand sanitizers can also be useful)
•  Sneezing or coughing into your elbow or a tissue – not your hand
•  Disposing of used tissues properly
•  Avoiding crowded areas or events like shopping malls, stores or sports arenas
•  Staying home from work, school, day care, church and other activities when sick
"I just think – what if I hadn't known about RSV. It scares me to think about what might have happened if I didn't take her in and I want other parents to know just how serious RSV is and how dangerous it can be for babies," said Watkins.

Interestingly, almost all children have had RSV at least once by the time they are two years of age.

To learn more about RSV, visit

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