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Respiratory virus poses threat to some children

ABHUTCHISON

When Pamela Williams’ 4-year-old son, Michael, had typical flu symptoms a few of weeks ago, she did what most mothers would do: monitored her son’s temperature, made sure he got plenty of rest and comforted him.

Two days after the onset of Michael’s flu symptoms his illness had turned into pneumonia, and she saw in horror that her son’s lips had turned blue, he had fever and his stomach was lurching with each breath of air he took.

When they immediately brought him to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno, Michael was checked in as a pneumonia patient. Doctors learned from a mucus sample the next day that Michael had contracted the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

“His bronchials were squeezing in in the middle,” Williams said. When she called a pediatrician friend, she learned her son had what sounded like a classic onset of respiratory failure.

According to information released about the disease by ICN Pharmecuticals, Inc., RSV is the most frequent cause of serious respiratory tract infections in infants and children younger than 4 years of age.

“This is such a common virus that virtually all children have been infected by RSV by the age of 3,” said ICN Pharmecuticals representatives. “In most young children, it results in a mild respiratory infection that is not distinguishable from a common cold.”

RSV occurs typically throughout the year and is most prevalent during the winter months. Tahoe Forest Hospital medical records show the hospital has seen three RSV cases since October 1999.

Symptoms include, nasal stuffiness and discharge, coughing and sometimes ear infections. The virus is usually self-limiting, say health officials, and does not require hospitalization or specific treatment, even in the majority of those who also have lower respiratory tract involvement. Children may have a low-grade fever for several days, respiratory symptoms that may last for one to two weeks, and a cough that sometimes persists beyond two weeks.

RSV can be serious, however. The infection may develop into a more severe infection, like in Michael’s case, in the lower respiratory tract that requires hospitalization. Most commonly, those requiring hospitalization are newborns and infants and those who have other complicating or underlying conditions, such as congenital heart didsease, lung disease or prematurity. In Michael’s case, he had asthma.

Symptoms of a more serious RSV infection include stressful breathing, deeper and more frequent coughing, and children who generally act sicker by appearing more tired, less playful, and less interested in food.

“We thought we would just take him (Michael) to the emergency room and go home,” Williams said. “But it turned out to be a five day event.”

The second day in the hospital, Michael was quarantined, and he was treated with steroids.

Before this trip to the hospital, the Williams family had not heard of RSV.

“It’s just so humbling,” she said. “It’s also not being educated about what a respiratory illness looks like.”

She continued,”I think it’s a pretty serious situation. I don’t want to make people paranoid, but I want people to be cautious right now.”

According to ICN Pharmaceuticals, children and adults of all ages can become infected. The infection in older children and adults may be very mild, usually causing cold-like symptoms. A person becomes infected by coming in close contact with another infected person or with the secretions from an infected person. An infant usually acquires the infection from close contact with an older family member who may have only mild cold symptoms.

Extra precaution can be taken by washing hands often and preventing the spread of infectious secretions on tissues and objects.

ICN indicates that most children recover completely from the virus, and will handle their next respiratory infection with no more difficulty than the average child. A few children, however, appear to be more susceptible to subsequent respiratory problems. Susceptibility may also relate to some other underlying medical condition or allergy.


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