Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV)

Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). With Theresa Lowry Lehnen, GPN, RNP, PhD. Clinical Nurse Specialist and Associate Lecturer at Institute of Technology Carlow

52, 54 – HPN January 2022 Digital

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common, ubiquitous and contagious viral pathogen. It infects the respiratory tract of most children by 2 years of age. RSV is an RNA pneumovirus of the Paramyxoviridae family, and humans are the only natural host. Worldwide, it is estimated that RSV is responsible for approximately 33 million lower respiratory tract illnesses. This is in addition to three million hospitalisations, and up to 199,000 childhood deaths.

We spoke to Clinical Nurse Specialist and Associate Lecturer at Institute of Technology, Theresa Lowry Lehnen to understand more. RSV typically spreads via hands, fomites and the airborne aerosol route. Respiratory syncytial virus spreads from person to person. This is by aerosol droplets through coughing or sneezing, and is also spread through direct contact by touch.

Theresa notes that RSV can survive on surfaces and objects for 24 hours. Although, it can spread and occur indirectly through contact with contaminated hands.

“ Respiratory syncytial virus is primarily a childhood infection. However, it may occur at any age and can be most severe in infants under one year old, the immunocompromised. This is as well as people aged 65 years and older. It infects 90% of children within the first 2 years of life. Although, it frequently re-infects older children and adults,” she says. Respiratory Syncytial Virus infection can present as a variety of clinical syndromes. This includes upper respiratory tract infections, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, exacerbations of asthma and viral-induced wheeze.

Theresa concludes, “Therefore the management of Respiratory Syncytial Virus disease in infants and children is primarily supportive with antiviral medications reserved for the most vulnerable. Palivizumab continues to be the only effective prophylactic medication licensed for use, however, its high cost prevents it from being used in all infants.

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