RSV Infection Escalating in Region 8

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - There's an infection making its way through Region 8.  Its victims are sometimes the least likely to be able to fight it off.  RSV can strike anyone; but it can be particularly hard for young children and older adults.

The infection is making its annual trek through Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri.

"I think right before Christmas, we started to see some cases and it's really just escalating," said Dr. Jane Sneed, a Jonesboro pediatrician.  In fact, Dr. Sneed says 20% of Children's Clinic patients are suffering with RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.

"Syncitial usually means clump formation, so what this virus does is it gets into the lining of the lungs and causes such inflammation and then the viral cells themselves tend to make little clumps," explained Dr. Sneed.  "So it's really the inflammation that's the major problem with this disease."

Small children who have naturally small airways--especially preemies or those who have heart and lung problems, along with senior adults with health conditions like emphysema, have a tough time dealing with RSV

Symptoms of RSV are similar to other respiratory infections and include: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever loss of appetite, little or no energy and difficulty breathing.

There's now a vaccine to try to help prevent RSV in children who are at risk--but it is expensive.

RSV infections typically last one to two weeks.  But it's during this time the infection can spread through coughing, sneezing or a runny nose.  Just touching a surface like this doorknob can spread the infection.

"The virus can live on the surface of any object for like up to 7 hours," said Dr. Sneed.  "And it can live on your hands for 30 minutes."

That's why children and adults with RSV should consider themselves contagious.

"You do not need to take your baby back to daycare.  You don't need to take your baby to the church nursery or Mother's Day Out because it's not fair to expose other people's children and they really can be contagious for up to 5 to 7 days," said Dr. Sneed.

RSV once led to many babies being hospitalized, but that's not the case so much anymore because of medications now available.  Yet, some young children will still end up in the hospital.

"Those that end up in the hospital are the ones that just can't drink because they have so much congestion that they need IV fluids, or the babies that, because of the swelling, in the airways are having trouble getting enough oxygen so they need the mist tent," said Dr. Sneed.