Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Although RSV is the most common cause of respiratory tract infection in children under five years of age, most people are unfamiliar with the disease. RSV can be particularly serious in infants born prematurely, children under the age of two suffering from chronic lung conditions, and young children with haemodynamically significant congenital heart disease. Multiples are also at increased risk for serious RSV disease.

Virtually all children are exposed to the virus during the first two years of life and re-infection throughout life is very common. Infants born at less than 36 weeks gestational age are at a significantly elevated risk for severe RSV disease.

For otherwise healthy children, RSV usually amounts to little more than a cold. However, for preemies and other at-risk infants, the health consequences can be much more serious. RSV spreads easily from person to person via respiratory secretions. The chance of spreading the virus within a family is very high. Many times school-aged children introduce the virus into the family. Despite strict infection control procedures, hospital nursery units, creches and other similar institutions are also at high-risk for RSV outbreaks.  To help protect your baby, there are simple steps that parents and caregivers can take:

Have family members and caregivers wash their hands with warm water and soap before touching the baby
Avoid being around the baby if you have a cold or fever
Avoid exposing the baby to other children with cold symptoms
Keep the baby away from crowded places
Never smoke around the baby
Talk to your baby’s paediatrician about RSV risks and prevention

Signs of RSV

Symptoms of RSV often resemble a cold at the beginning:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sniffles

Signs to watch for as RSV progresses are:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Very rapidly breathing or grasping for air
  • Blue lips are area around the mouth and under fingernails
  • Fever over 100.4 degrees in an infant under 3-months-old, over 101 degrees in an infant between 3-6 months-old, and more than 103 degrees in an infant over 6-months-old.

The child’s condition can worsen VERY quickly. If there is more than one child in the home, RSV can spread rapidly throughout the home. This is one of the major reasons why RSV is such a great concern to multiple birth families. In all likelihood if you have one baby with RSV that means that each of your other babies have most likely been exposed to it as well and could quite possibly have it also. RSV season lasts from October through March. It is very, very easy to contract RSV. It is spread by physical contact (such as shaking hands with an infected person) or by air droplets (caused by an infected person sneezing or coughing). RSV can also live for up to 6 hours on surfaces, such as doorknobs, telephones, tap handles, counters or used tissues and burp cloths. RSV infections are very common in areas where people are crowded together (either in living together or even taking mass transportation) and in creches. In homes where there are multiple children, RSV can spread very rapidly from child to child. Older brothers and sisters may bring the virus home from school or friends’ homes.

Synagis (palivizumub)

Synagis is a preventative medication offered to extremely low birth weight babies. Synagis helps to protect infants against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a very common cause of chest infections in infancy. Synagis is administered by injection on a monthly basis during the winter months from October to March. If your infant requires synagis the discharge nurse will discuss it with you prior to discharge. The cost of the synagis injection is borne by the family and it is advisable to apply for a Drugs Payment Scheme Card for you your infant prior to discharge from the NICU. To learn more about the HSE Drugs Payment Scheme please refer to the following link: www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/1/schemes/drugspaymentscheme/