While the flu epidemic is making the most news these days, I'm actually seeing RSV (respiratory synctial virus) causing some serious illness among my patients.
I'm seeing many parents who are "fearful" of RSV because their child's day care center or school has sent home notices letting them know about cases of RSV. I'm still confused by the need to send out notices which may only scare parents.
At this time of year, RSV is virtually everywhere. The virus crops up every fall, winter and often into early spring. It causes cold symptoms for most of us.
By the children reach age 2, the majority (upwards of 90 percent) have had at least one RSV infection, but most parents never know the name of the virus causing their child's terrible cough and runny nose.
That being said, some children, especially those under age 2, will have more serious problems with RSV. In some cases, especially in young infants, the virus will cause not just a runny nose, congestion and coughing, but wheezing and respiratory distress. It's in those cases that we "name that tune" and test to confirm whether the baby has RSV.
Our office doesn't routinely test every child with a cough or even wheezing to see if they have RSV. If we did, we would be testing almost every child! We only do the test on the sickest children that end up needing to be hospitalized. The real reason behind the testing is to confirm our suspicions and to follow the epidemiology of the disease during RSV season.
Treatment of the symptoms doesn't really change based on confirmation of RSV. Other respiratory virusesm such as rhinovirus and metapneumovirus, are also lurking out there this winter causing coughs, colds and wheezing, as well.
Once again, don't worry about "naming the virus" or rushing to the doctor because your neighbor's child or a friend in day care has been diagnosed with RSV. Rather, pay attention to your child's symptoms and how he/she is breathing and coping with the illness. Hopefully, RSV will move out of the country in the next 6 weeks, but will surely return next year.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)