My two-and-a-half-year-old had a runny nose. Toddlers get those, so I wasn't worried. Three days later, he woke up vomiting and was on fire. I didn't need a thermometer to know he needed to be cooled down, and fast. I did exactly what the doctors tell you to do. Since he was puking and wouldn't be able to hold down medicine, I put him in a lukewarm bath until he felt semi-normal. We both went back to bed thinking this viral unpleasantry would pass by morning. We were wrong. He woke up again puking and hot, but this time with each rapid breath, his tiny ribs sucked in deep. His heart was racing. Admittedly, a little scared, I rushed him to the ER. After several doctors sat for several hours hmm-ing and hah-ing at the fact that his symptoms didn't quite match any one condition, they finally decided to test for everything it could be. It was RSV or respiratory syncytial virus, something I was unaware could affect toddlers.
What is RSV and what are its symptoms?
RSV is a respiratory system virus most commonly encountered in spring and fall. It attacks the lungs, causing inflammation and sometimes infection as well a wide range of other symptoms that may include:
-Stuffy or runny nose
-Decreased appetite or activity
-Shortness of breath
-Rapid breathing and heart rate
-Labored breathing/Intercostal Retraction, meaning the accessory muscles are being used to breathe. If you see the skin between your toddler's ribs suck in while breathing, this is intercostal retraction. Retractions in the rib area indicate minor breathing difficulty, while retractions in the collarbone and breastbone area, as well as the rib area, indicate severe breathing trouble.
-Bluish tint to the skin
Vomiting is not typically a symptom of RSV itself; however, high fevers brought on by RSV can result in vomiting. Toddlers who have been drinking milk are more likely to vomit from fever.
Why aren't toddlers normally affected by RSV?
It's not that toddlers aren't affected by RSV. Anyone can get RSV. It's that typically infants under the age of 1 get the severe symptoms that can require hospitalization, because they have immature immune systems. Adults and older children generally only get cold-like symptoms from RSV, possibly as minor as a runny nose. As a result, information about the virus usually focuses on babies. This has led to an overall assumption that RSV is a baby virus that is no longer a concern in toddlers. However, RSV can still be a dangerous virus to toddlers if they suffer from preexisting lung or heart complications or if they have a compromised immune system. In my case, my toddler had just gotten over influenza, which left his immune system weakened.
How is RSV treated?
RSV is a virus, so there are no medications that can make it go away. Mild cases will go away without treatment within a week or so. In the meantime, be sure to wash your hands often as well as any bedding, bottles/sippy cups and other items that come in close contact with your child. If your toddler shows any sign of breathing trouble, especially retractions, you need to seek medical care immediately. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your child may be given an IV for fluids, breathing treatments, and/or oral steroids. Typically, you can expect a 48-hour stay at the hospital minimum.
You may also enjoy:
CDC on RSV
What are retractions?