The corona virus dominates the headlines, but a completely different virus is currently going on among children in Bavaria. Hardly anyone knows the name, but it’s much more dangerous, especially for the little ones.
The RS virus is rampant among children in Bavaria – so much so that the children’s hospitals hardly have any free beds. “All clinics are at the attack,” reported the regional chairman of the professional association of paediatricians, Dominik Ewald, from Regensburg to the German press agency. At the same time he reassured: “Nobody has declared an absolute state of emergency. The supply is not at risk because we can still manage it somehow.” Read everything you need to know about the RS virus below.
What is the RS Virus?
The RS virus (respiratory syncytial virus, RSV) causes respiratory diseases. Small children are particularly affected, but adults can also become ill. Symptoms can be harmless, like a common cold. However, severe courses are also possible, which can even end fatally. In most cases, however, the disease heals on its own within a few days.
It is a virus that causes cells to merge (syncytia) in the respiratory tract. The pathogen is similar to the flu virus and occurs worldwide. It causes seasonal outbreaks: in Europe, most people get the RS virus between November and April, most commonly in January and February.
RS virus: common in babies and toddlers
In principle, people of all ages can get sick from the RS virus. But it affects small children more often. RS virus infection is the leading cause of hospital treatment for respiratory disease in infants and young children. The disease can be particularly severe in premature babies and infants. In premature babies with lung damage and children with heart defects, the RSV infection is fatal in one out of 100 cases.
About 50 to 70 percent of all children get an RS virus infection at least once during their first year of life. After the age of two, almost all children have already had an RS virus infection. Girls and boys are equally affected. However, boys are much more likely to develop severe disease.
RS virus: highly infectious
The RS virus is considered to be highly infectious. That’s why it’s very easy to get infected from sick people. For example, if an RS virus infection occurs in a hospital, the patient is isolated to prevent the disease from spreading to other patients and medical staff.
The RS virus is considered to be the most common infection transmitted to children in hospital.
RS virus: symptoms
The symptoms of RS virus infection can vary greatly from one patient to another. Adults who are otherwise healthy often have no symptoms at all. Then doctors speak of an asymptomatic or clinically silent RSV infection. In other cases, RS virus disease develops mildly – those affected have cold-like symptoms such as:
- dry cough
- Sore throat
Especially in small children, RSV infection can affect the upper respiratory tract ( nose , mouth , throat ) as well as the lower respiratory tract ( bronchi and lungs) – more precisely, the small branches of the bronchial tree. One then speaks of RSV bronchiolitis. It often becomes noticeable one to three days after the onset of the disease with the following symptoms:
- accelerated breathing
- audible rattles and wheezing when breathing
- Cough with sputum
- Difficult breathing with the use of auxiliary breathing muscles (prop up your arms)
- dry, cold and pale skin
- Sunken fontanel in children under 18 months
In addition, there are general signs of illness such as weakness, malaise, lack of appetite and refusal to drink.
Symptoms of RSV infection can get much worse within a few hours . Breathing stops (apneas) may occur repeatedly in premature babies.
RS virus: causes and risk factors
The RS virus consists of a protein envelope and the genetic information enclosed in it (in the form of RNA). It multiplies in the superficial cells of the mucous membranes that line the airways. A special protein, the fusion (F -) protein, is anchored in the virus envelope . It causes cells to fuse (syncytia formation) in the affected mucous membranes. These syncytia as well as the immigrating defense cells of the immune system damage the mucous membranes – cells die and then obstruct the airways.
RS virus: transmission
The RS virus is only found in humans. It is transmitted via droplet infection : When coughing, sneezing or speaking, infected people release tiny droplets of virus-containing saliva into their surroundings. If these get on the conjunctiva or nasal mucous membrane of a healthy person, they can also get sick. A smear infection, for example via contaminated toys or clothing, is also possible.
The time between infection and the onset of the disease ( incubation period ) is two to eight days, on average five days.
How long is an infected person contagious?
A patient is contagious (infectious) for about three to five days from the first day after RSV infection.
RS virus: risk factors
There are certain situations in which a child’s risk of becoming seriously ill with RS virus infection is particularly high. This applies, for example, to:
- Premature birth
- chronic lung diseases, e.g. bronchopulmonary dysplasia, congenital airway abnormalities, but also cystic fibrosis (congenital metabolic disease that affects the lungs , among other things )
- congenital heart defects
- neuromuscular diseases
- Immunodeficiency or immunosuppressive therapy (therapy that suppresses the immune system, e.g. after organ transplantation)
- Chromosome abnormalities (such as trisomy 21 = ” Down syndrome “)
In addition, there are some general risk factors for a severe RS virus infection such as:
- Age less than six months
- Multiple birth
- male gender
- Siblings in toddler age
- Visit to the crib
- Household where people smoke
- Cases of atopic diseases (such as hay fever , eczema ) or asthma in the family
- low social and educational status of parents
RS virus: treatment
There is no causal therapy for RSV infection. Thus, only the symptoms can be treated (symptomatic therapy) by:
- adequate hydration
- expectorant measures such as steam baths
- fever-lowering measures such as leg compresses or the administration of ibuprofen or paracetamol
- Keeping the nasopharynx clear by rinsing or nasal drops
- Breathing support (see below)
RS virus: prevention
The best measure to prevent RS virus infection is hygiene:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbows, not your hands.
- Clean children’s toys regularly.
- Sick people should not visit community facilities.
Breastfeeding is also beneficial for infants: Breastfeeding children suffer less from respiratory diseases than bottle-fed children.
In addition, you should not smoke in the vicinity of children.