HONOLULU -- Even with Hawaii's moderate temperatures, the fall and winter seasons usher in an increase in colds and respiratory infections, to include respiratory syncytial virus, a common infection that can cause more serious illness in some patients.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in infants and young children, but it can cause respiratory illness in people of any age.
"Although RSV infects thousands of people each year, certain individuals are at risk for severe disease," explained Dr. (Maj.) Megan Kloetzel, deputy chief, Department of Preventive Medicine, Tripler Army Medical Center. "This includes premature infants, children under two years old with chronic heart or lung disease, people age 65 or older, or people of any age who have a weakened immune system."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, RSV infections generally occur in the United States from November to April. However, the timing of the season may differ among locations and from year to year.
Symptoms of an RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections. A person with an RSV infection might cough, sneeze, and have a runny nose, fever and decrease in appetite. Wheezing may also occur.
In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection.
According to the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, an estimated 125,000 infants in the United States each year are hospitalized with severe RSV, which is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations. By the age of two, almost all children are infected with RSV at least once.
"RSV is a virus that causes epidemics of cough and colds every year," explained Dr. (Col.) Martin Weisse, chief, Department of Pediatrics, TAMC. "Most kids get a very runny nose and frequent cough, with or without fever. About one out of 10 babies with RSV may need to be in the hospital, and then usually for one to three days. RSV is spread like other cold viruses, so hand-washing and use of hand-sanitizers will decrease spread."
According to the CDC, infants, children and otherwise healthy people infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days of infection. Most will recover in one to two weeks.
However, even after recovery, very young infants and children with weakened immune systems can continue to spread the virus for one to three weeks.
Currently, there is no vaccine to protect against RSV. To help prevent the spread of RSV, people who have cold-like symptoms should:
•Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
•Wash their hands often with soap and water for 15--20 seconds
•Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when hand washing is not available
•Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others
•Avoid spending time with infants, young children or other high-risk patients while ill
•Refrain from kissing others
Tricare beneficiaries who are concerned about RSV or would like a family member to be evaluated should schedule an appointment with their primary care provider.
For pediatric patients, call your clinic or your doctor's office if your child is breathing too fast or is having trouble breathing, isn't eating and drinking well, or has fever for more than a couple of days.
A prompt emergency room visit is warranted if the affected individual is turning blue, has severe difficulty breathing or very rapid breathing, has periods of no breathing (apnea), is lethargic, or is unable to tolerate fluids by mouth for hydration.