What is Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that causes mild cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. It can cause serious respiratory infections in young babies, especially those born prematurely, who have heart or lung disease, or who are immunocompromised.

Statistics on Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

RSV is the most common respiratory pathogen in infants and young children. It has infected nearly all infants by the age of two years. Seasonal outbreaks of acuterespiratory illness occur each year, on a schedule that is somewhat predictable in each region. The season typically begins in the fall and runs into the spring.

Each year up to 125,000 infants are hospitalized due to severe RSV disease; and about 1-2% of these infants die. Infants born prematurely, those with chronic lung disease, those who are immunocompromised, and those with certain forms of heart disease are at increased risk for severe RSV disease.

Risk Factors for Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

Those who are exposed to tobacco smoke, who attend daycare, who live in crowded conditions, or have school-age siblings are at higher risk.

Progression of Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis in infants (it is complicated by pneumonia in approximately 10% of cases).

Immunity is short-lived and so reinfection is common throughout life.

How is Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is confirmed by immunofluorescence on nasopharyngeal aspirates, virus culture and serology.

Prognosis of Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

The disease may be severe and potentially fatal in babies with underlying cardiac or respiratory disease. RSV infection has been associated with SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

How is Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection Treated?

Treatment is supported. In severe cases (and particularly to those with underlying cardiac or respiratory disease), aerosolized ribavirin may be given.

There is not a vaccine available, however, high-risk children (including those with bronchopulmonary dysplasia and congenital hearty disease) may have a monthly administration of either a hyperimmune globulin against the disease or a humanised monoclonal antibody, to protect against the disease during the winter months.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection References

  1. Kumar P, Clark M. Clinical Medicine. Fourth Ed. WB Saunders, 2002.
  2. MEDLINE Plus.
  3. Mike Sharland, Alison Bedford-Russell, Preventing respiratory syncitial virus bronchiolitis: except in very high risk infants there is no cost effective prophylactic agent. British Medical Journal, Jan 13, 2001.

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