A deadly virus

What is it?
Respiratory syncytial virus or the RS Virus is much like the flu. And just like flu you can get it more than once. For most people this virus causes upper respiratory illness or the common cold, but there are some exceptions.

Babies and toddlers under two often get bronchitis or bronchiolitis that sometimes need hospitalisation. This is mostly because babies under 6 months struggle to drink when suffering from RSV and can become dehydrated as well as suffer from lack of oxygen. Older children are usually treated at home.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms start with a runny nose, sneezing and a temperature. The worst is usually two to three days after coughing has started as the virus is then attacking the small airways in the lungs. Difficulty breathing, whistling sounds in the chest or bluish tint around the mouth all point to a serious infection that need to be attended to.  The disease runs its course in a week, but coughing can continue long after that.

Who are at risk of serious infections?
The RS virus is particularly hazardous for the elderly and babies or children born premature or that have lung or heart problems. It causes pneumonia, acute bronchitis and bronchiolitis. The main reason for this is the way in which the virus attacks the lungs.

Any child that has a less than normal oxygen transfer capability in the lungs are at risk of a very severe infection. Studies have found that even healthy looking premature babies tend to have interrupted lung development and differences in lung development can be seen up to the age of 6 or 7 years.

Similarly children with chronic lung decease and children with congenital heart defects often receive supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation. Unfortunately this intervention can also cause damage to the lungs that can interfere with the oxygen transfer capability.

How do they test for RS virus?
There are two types of tests that can be done. The first is a blood test that counts the presence of antibodies to the virus. However this is not always conclusive since most people have been infected previously and babies usually have antibodies passed down from the mother.

The second test is by testing for the presence of the virus itself in the mucous secretions. It also doesn’t necessitate drawing blood. A nasal wash is usually used. A small amount of sterile saline is squirted into the nose and then collected with a gentle suction. The fluid collected is then used for the test.

How does it spread?

RS virus spreads just like the flu by means of contact with saliva and mucus. It can also spread through droplets in the air when someone sneezes. The virus can survive for up to 7 hours.

How do you prevent infection?
As with the flu the best defence is washing hands before touching. This includes preparing food, blowing your nose and going to the bathroom. Keeping small babies and children away from people that have a cold or flu. Avoiding crowds during flu season.

Sources: Netdoctor, Labtestonline, Synagis
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