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RSV: A Respiratory Virus That Can Send Infants And Kids To The Hospital


Amid high flu activity in North Texas, health officials also are tracking respiratory syncytial (sinSISHuhl) virus. In this edition of KERA's consumer health series Vital Signs, Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, explains why he calls RSV “probably the most important respiratory virus that most people have never heard of.”

From Dr. Kahn’s interview…

Why is RSV important: "It’s the major respiratory virus of infants and young children – more so than influenza. By the age of two, nearly 95 percent of children have been infected with RSV."

How RSV manages to affect so many children: "It spreads very rapidly in communities, right through the respiratory route. Your child or you may have respiratory symptoms – a runny nose, a cough. In fact, many parents will recognize this as a mild cold. The issue with RSV is it could also lead to a lower respiratory tract infection. In other words, the virus gets into the lungs and creates a lot of inflammation, and this is where children will get into trouble with breathing, difficulty getting oxygen into their blood. If you look at pathogens, RSV is the most common cause of hospitalization in children nationwide."

RSV affects adults: "It’s now being recognized that, in particular, in the elderly and people who have compromised immunity can cause significant lower respiratory tract infection."

How RSV is treated: “For the most part, supportive care. We give them (at the hospital) oxygen, hydration – because these kids have a lot of respiratory distress, they can’t eat. In the most severe cases, they’re put on ventilators so we support their respiratory status. There is one drug that’s been approved for treatment of RSV. It’s not very effective, it’s difficult to administer and it’s only used under rare circumstances."

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About RSV 

RSV in Babies: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Vaccine 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.