Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of bronchiolitis – an inflammation of the small airways of the lungs – and pneumonia in children under two years of age, but it can infect children of any age, although it is more common in those between 2 and 8 months.
Rsv is very widespread and contagious, and, like the influenza virus, causes annual epidemics. It is transmitted by air – through inhalation of droplets generated by a sneeze or cough – or by direct contact of infected nasal secretions with the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth or nose. The period of greatest contagiousness is between November and April, with a peak in the months of January, February and March. The incubation period (time between exposure and symptoms) is approximately four to six days. The experts from the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome explain the secrets of the respiratory syncytial virus on their website.
The initial phase of RSV in infants and young children “is often mild, similar to a cold – the paediatricians continue -. In children under 3 years of age the disease can extend into the lower airways and cause coughing and wheezing. In some , the infection progresses to a severe respiratory disease (bronchiolitis) requiring hospitalization to help the child breathe.” The Higher Institute of Health (ISS) recalls that “RSV is the first single cause of acute respiratory infections of the lower respiratory tract in children throughout the world. The virus is capable of causing a series of respiratory symptoms ranging from rhinitis to ear infections, up to bronchitis and pneumonia – the experts point out – the virus infects practically all children under two years of age, with an annual infection estimate given by the WHO of around 64 million infections per year and 160 thousand deaths “.
How is it prevented? “International and national guidelines recommend that children at high risk due to high prematurity or the presence of cardiac, pulmonary or neuromuscular diseases and other debilitating diseases, receive the drug Palivizumab to protect them from serious complications of the disease – underlines Bambino Gesù -. The Palivizumab is a monoclonal antibody (an antibody against Rsv, built in the laboratory) that is usually administered monthly during the respiratory syncytial virus ‘season’, from late autumn to spring, with simple intramuscular injections. It is therefore not a vaccine and does not prevent infection but reduces the severity of any illness and shortens the hospital stay”.
“To protect fragile children it is important that all people in contact with him always wash their hands with warm water and soap before touching him. It is also important to keep the child away from smoking and crowded areas such as shopping centres. Careful evaluation with the reference pediatrician will help in the choice of whether or not to include the fragile child in nursery during the epidemic period”, conclude the experts.