RSV is on the rise – here’s how to tell the difference between this virus and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a particularly stressful time for parents of young children. This is because the symptoms of the virus, which includes a tight chest, coughing and shortness of breath, can easily be confused with other respiratory viruses. One such virus, and one that parents need to know about, but often don’t, is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), also known as “the 100-day cough”.

ALSO SEE: How to tell if my baby or toddler has COVID-19?

RSV on the rise

Recent reports show that RSV is on the rise across the globe. This illness also affects the respiratory tract, like COVID-19, and is often more severe in children than adults.

As more children return to the classroom after the reopening of schools and day care centres in South Africa, there’s an increased risk that children may be exposed to the virus.

Is it a cold, RSV or COVID-19?

“Unfortunately, most viral respiratory illnesses develop and look very similar. There’s no easy way to tell them apart, which is why parents often confuse the symptoms of RSV for other respiratory illnesses, like a common cold. Parents often assume it will go away on its own, not realising that it could develop into something more serious like bronchitis or even pneumonia in younger children,” says Dr Iqbal Karbanee, CEO of Paed-IQ BabyLine.

“Younger children, toddlers and babies are particularly vulnerable to RSV. The highest risk group for the complications of RSV are premature babies,” he adds.

ALSO SEE: Moms, here’s how to tell the difference between a cold and COVID-19

Symptoms of RSV include:

  • Secretions from the nose
  • A cough
  • Fever
  • A child’s chest may also be affected

“RSV can cause secretions that last for weeks. Think of that cold that you just can’t shake off – it gets better, but weeks later, you still have a post-nasal drip. A case like this would most likely be RSV,” explains Dr Karbanee.

How is it spread?

RSV is typically spread by droplets from hand-to-hand contact and through contaminated surfaces. Dr Karbanee says the virus spreads quickly through environments such as preschools and creches.

Preventing RSV

“The single best measure to prevent the virus from spreading is handwashing,” says Dr Karbanee.

He adds that although COVID-19 has made us more aware of how to keep healthy, it has also made it difficult to know when to go to the doctor, or if you can treat your child’s symptoms at home when they get sick.

When should you see the doctor?

Dr Karbanee says parents are now more likely to act if their child is coughing, experiences shortness of breath, or any other symptoms. However, parents are often unsure whether they should treat their children at home, or go to the doctor. COVID-19 has also impacted people’s pockets, so parents may not have the financial means to see a doctor when their child gets sick,” says Dr Karbanee.

“In cases of mild symptoms, where secretions are not causing breathing issues, you can manage your child’s symptoms at home,” he adds.

It’s also important to monitor your child’s fever and to keep him hydrated. If your child is struggling to breathe, you should take him to the doctor.

How do you treat RSV?

Even though RSV cannot be treated with antibiotics, Dr Karbanee says there are good management options available.

“The main area of concern for parents is when the virus causes chest complications. If there’s a change in your child’s condition that indicates this is happening, you should take him to the doctor,” says Dr Karbanee.

But that being said, parents either don’t always have the financial means to take their child to the doctor, or time to stand in long lines at the clinic.

If the above is true for you, you can make use of a telephonic-based advise service, like Paed-IQ BabyLine, a 24/7 telephonic-based helpline for medical advice, given by paediatric-trained nurses. They will be able to give you advice on the best treatment course for your child.

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