Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): Overview, Treatment, and Prevention Strategies

Mark J. Polak, MD


NAINR. 2004;4(1) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most common diseases of childhood. Virtually all children have been exposed to this virus by age two. RSV causes common cold symptoms in most patients. In vulnerable children, RSV can progress to bronchiolitis and/or pneumonia with an increased chance of significant morbidity or death. The nature of the virus and mode of infection protects it from the human immune system. Treatment for RSV is largely supportive. Key elements of treatment are maintenance of hydration, and oxygenation, as well as keeping the airways clear of mucus. Prevention of RSV in vulnerable infants is important because of the increased morbidity and mortality. A modest effort spent identifying vulnerable infants, educating the parents about RSV and its prevention, and providing immunoprophylaxis to those who qualify for it, increases the chances that these vulnerable children get through the first several years of life without RSV bronchiolitis.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most common human pathogens on this planet. By the age of two years, nearly every human child has been exposed to the virus, resulting most often in mild upper respiratory tract illness. But RSV may also be one of the most serious human pathogens on this planet. Worldwide, RSV directly or indirectly contributes to the deaths of between 600,000 and 1,000,000 infants and children under the age of five each year. In the United States, several hundred infants may die directly from the infection, while the deaths of an additional several thousand may be attributed to RSV-related complications. RSV infections account for over 100,000 hospitalizations each year.[1,2,3,4] For the neonatal caregiver, an understanding of the virus and how to treat and/or prevent infection is an important part of management of the premature infant.