RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, causes wheezing and thick mucus buildup in infants and toddlers. It comes around every winter, but some Philadelphia-area doctors say this season is an especially bad one.
“Part of this really is because there happens to be more cases this year,” said Sarah Long, head of infectious diseases at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. “And (part) is that because of influenza last year, we’re more likely to prove cases.”
Due to the H1N1 outbreak last year, Long said more kids are being tested upon admission to the hospital to see if they have the flu, which is treatable, or RSV, which has to be patiently waited out. That testing has boosted the number of confirmed cases.
Philadelphia pediatrician Alexis Lieberman, who calls RSV the “really sick virus,” said she had to call an ambulance last week for a child with RSV.
“He was bluish,” Lieberman said. “Blue is bad.”
The child was fine, and the virus, which causes inflammation in the lower airways that make it hard for kids to breathe, isn’t usually that severe. But it can be scary for parents. To distinguish between a regular cough and RSV, Lieberman advises parents to listen — an RSV wheeze will be much higher-pitched than a regular cough.
“If your kid is coughing a lot, open up their shirt and look at their chest,” Lieberman said. “Is it calm and quiet, or is it moving too much and is it fast and labored?”
If breathing is fast and labored, or if your child’s color is bad, head to a pediatrician. There’s no real treatment for RSV, but therapies used for asthmatics can help make breathing easier.
To avoid getting sick in the first place, the usual advice applies: Wash hands often and avoid people who are sick, especially in the first three days they show symptoms, when they are most likely to be contagious.