‘Young Infants’ disease: The RSV wave

April 20, 2022

It’s Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season. Dr. Nadia Khan explains more about RSV and provides some tips to protect our children.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a viral illness that can present with symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection. It can also cause inflammation of the airways. In children this might look like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Dr. Nadia Khan, Paediatrician based at Busamed Hillcrest Private Hospital says that since Covid-19 protocols have been phased out, she has noted a spike in the admission rates of children with RSV especially over the past month. Dr. Khan adds that the most ‘at risk’ patients are premature babies and those under the age of 1. “If you have a child who has a chronic condition, like a cardiac condition for example, I recommend that you ask your paediatrician about administering the RSV monoclonal antibody.”

Dr. Khan says RSV is spread through droplets from an infected person that are transferred to respiratory entry points such the nose, mouth, and eyes. She says that Covid-19 protocols have taught the public about the positive impact of regular hand washing and this protocol would work well to minimise the chance of infection with RSV as well.

“If you have school-going children and an infant at home, for example, it’s vitally important to maintain regular hand washing as a decontamination strategy. Of course, the number one strategy is to keep children with a runny nose and cough at home until their symptoms clear up.”

Dr. Khan says that two RSV seasons were repressed during lockdown because of mask wearing, social distancing and sanitising policies that had been mandated in public and private spaces. As a result, the 2022 RSV season was predicted to be more severe with a greater number of admissions.

She says the incubation period of RSV is between two to eight days. “We recommend isolation at home of 10 days from the onset of symptoms.”

RSV presents in children as a high fever, sore throat (which could lead to loss of appetite), runny nose, congestion, cough wheezing and even apnoea.

“We’ve had quite a few cases of children who have experienced apnoea’s at home and who needed resuscitation on their way to hospital.” Dr. Khan explains that apnoea is the temporary stopping of breathing which can lead to a patient becoming hypoxic (oxygen starved). The condition can be fatal if left untreated.

Says Dr. Khan, “There are basic activities we can take to protect our children from infection. These include regular hand washing, teaching our children to cover their mouth when they cough and not sending a sick child to school.” She says there is an RSV vaccine for children who fulfil the criteria. “It is a very expensive vaccine and not everyone can afford to get it. But, for parents with medical aid and children who meet the criteria – for example, ex-prems (extremely premature) or children with cardiac conditions or immune deficiencies – your medical aid might cover the RSV monoclonal antibody injection.”

Dr Nadia Khan
Dr Nadia Khan

Paediatrician

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