At Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the new name for Spectrum Health, we care for what feels like an alphabet soup of viruses during the typical cold and flu season. We have all heard about SARS-CoV-19, the cause of COVID-19, which emerged only a few years ago. But another virus, RSV, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, has been around for decades and affects our community.
While we prepare for an influx of infant RSV cases each year, we saw fewer cases of it during the past two years, likely because social distancing and masking led to less exposure to children. However, in the fall of 2022, the surge came earlier and surpassed pre-pandemic levels. These are the questions about RSV we hear most often from parents and care givers.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
Healthy adults and older kids experience RSV as a common cold, with symptoms such as high fever, cough, sneezing, shortness of breath, or runny nose. But that is not the case for infants. They often have worse symptoms due to RSV, sometimes to the point of needing oxygen. RSV is the most common cause of airway inflammation and hospitalization in infants.
Who is the most vulnerable to RSV?
Infants less than two years of age are more vulnerable. The diameter of their airway
is smaller, and the lung inflammation of RSV more easily impairs the delivery of oxygen to their lower airways. This causes infants to have labored breathing; some need oxygen therapy with RSV infections.
How common is RSV, and can you get it more than once?
Most children are exposed to RSV every year. But immunity to RSV is short-lived, lasting only a year or two. This is why so many children and adults can get infected with RSV many times.
What can we do to prevent RSV?
Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid crowds where people could be exposed. Avoid contact with sick individuals.
What is the treatment for RSV?
There is no cure for RSV yet. However, most infants will recover with time. Parents should watch the breathing pattern and hydration of their RSV babies. For children in the hospital, we support their breathing and fluid intake until they recover enough to be discharged home. Vaccines and treatments are currently under development.