FRIDAY, Jan. 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Even though it can cause pneumonia and affects almost all children at least once before they're 2 years old, many parents haven't even heard of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), notes an expert at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
RSV most often strikes in the colder months. "Usually we begin seeing the early cases of RSV around the end of November, but the real push starts in December," Dr. Deborah Lehman, associate director of pediatric infectious diseases and HIV, said in a prepared statement.
"Unless they've had a baby who has been hospitalized with the disease or a premature infant who requires prophylaxis, I'd say most parents don't have a good sense of what this virus is," Lehman said.
Each year in the United States, about 125,000 children are hospitalized with RSV, the leading cause of infant hospitalization and the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis -- swelling of the small airways. Most children with RSV are treated as outpatients. However, about 500 children with RSV die each year in the United States.
The virus is highly contagious. It can survive for several hours on unwashed hands and on surfaces such as tables, playpens and countertops.
Some children are eligible for RSV immunization, which involves a series of monthly injections that usually begin in mid-October and continue for five months. If a child isn't eligible for RSV immunization, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers these recommendations:
- Make sure that everyone washes their hands before they touch the baby.
- Keep baby away from anyone who has a cold, fever or runny nose.
- Keep baby away from crowded areas like shopping malls.
- Keep baby away from tobacco smoke, which increases the risk of, and complications from, severe viral respiratory infections.
- All infants between 6 and 23 months old should be immunized against influenza. The influenza vaccine can help protect against other respiratory viruses.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about RSV.