Respiratory syncytial virus

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes respiratory tract infections and is a major cause of lower respiratory tract infection and hospital visits during infancy and childhood. For premature infants and infants with congenital heart disease there is a prophylactic medication.

During winter months in temperate climates there is an annual epidemic. Infection in tropical climates is most common during the rainy season. 60% of infants, in the United States, are infected during their first RSV season, and nearly all children will have been infected by the age of 2-3 years of age. 2-3% of those infected develop bronchiolitis which required hospitalization. Infection does provide immunity, although, it wanes over time allowing for people to be infected multiple times.

It is a negative-sense, single-stranded RNA virus of the family Paramyxoviridae which can cause measles and mumps. The name comes from the fact that F proteins on the surface of the virus cause the cell membranes on nearby cells to merge, forming syncytia. In most people, RSV only produces mild symptoms which are not indistinguishable from common colds and minor illnesses. More severe cases usually occur in patients that are immuno-compromised or premature infants. Common symptoms include listlessness, poor appetite, and a possible fever. Often for those that suffer RSV in their first months they have recurrent wheezing and asthma.

The virus is ubiquitous in all parts of the world so avoiding the infection is impossible. There is research into a new vaccine but there is none at present. Treatment is supportive care only, with fluids and oxygen until the illness runs its course.

Salbutamol may be used in an attempt to relieve any bronchospasm if present.