Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection: Symptoms & Treatment

Respiratory syncytial virus causes viral infection of respiratory tract. Although the infection is common in children, it has been observed to cause significant health problem in certain adult groups. Especially old people and adults suffering from heart disease and chronic pulmonary diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis are vulnerable to this virus infection. In adults the symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus infection are considerably mild.

The clinical features often appear as those of common cold and flu such as congestion of nose, mild fever, cough and wheezing. However, in 2 to 5 percent of adults it can be contributing factor to cause community acquired pneumonia.

Patient usually requires supportive treatment. Early administration of anti viral medicines is especially useful in preventing complications, especially in immune-compromised people and elderly age group.

Causes Of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection

Respiratory syncytial virus is an RNA virus which was isolated in 1950s in chimpanzee suffering from respiratory tract infection. The virus belongs to paramyxoviridae family which also includes para-influenza and measles virus. The virus only lives in humans. Epidemics of this infection usually occur in winter months in United States.

Respiratory syncytial virus is commonly seen in children but it may also affect adult population.

The virus enters into the mucus membrane of nose, throat and eyes through air. The virus is released from the droplets released from sneezing and coughing. The virus can also spread from direct contact with contaminated material or substance as they can live for sometime outside human body.

After infection, the person is most infectious for first one or two days. Although the incidence is more common in children, young and elderly people also suffer from this viral condition. The risk of severe form of disease in adults increases with age. Old people whose immunity is weak tend to contract the infection easily. People with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and congestive heart failure are also vulnerable to contract this infection. Adults suffering from HIV/AIDS or people with organ transplant may also be at greater risk.

Sign And Symptoms Of Respiratory Syncytial Virus

The signs and symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus infection usually develop after 5 to 6 days after the exposure to the virus. In healthy young adult the symptoms are usually mild to moderate. They may appear as symptoms of common cold and flu. These symptoms are as follows:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Dry cough
  • Throat irritation
  • Mild headache
  • Irritation and itching on the roof of mouth.
  • Mild or moderate fever.
  • Body ache with lassitude.

These mild symptoms disappear after few days. However, in certain adult groups such as elderly people, immunocompromised individuals etc, the symptoms may be more severe. They may cause considerable morbidity and sometime the condition can lead to life threatening complications.

People with chronic pulmonary disease and congestive cardiac failure are more vulnerable to develop severe symptoms. These symptoms include;

  • Fever
  • Uncontrolled cough
  • Wheezing
  • Has to strain and effortful breathing. In short patient has difficulty in breathing.
  • Bluish discoloration of skin, tongue and nails. In medical terminology this sign is called cyanosis.

The most common complication arising in elderly age group suffering from respiratory syncytial virus infection is pneumonia. This may increase morbidity and mortality in the patient.

Treatment Options For Respiratory Syncytial Virus

There is no specific treatment module for respiratory syncytial virus infection. Neither there is any vaccine to prevent the infection. The treatment in patients is mainly supportive and symptomatic. For example patient may require anti pyretic medicine to control fever. Corticosteroids and bronchodilators may be useful in case if patient is experiencing breathing difficulty and uncontrolled cough. This is especially beneficial for patient who are already suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis etc.

Antibiotics may be required if there is associated bacterial infection. There is possibility of secondary bacterial infection in at least 10 to 20 percent of this viral infection in people who are hospitalized. An elderly patient or people with immune compromised system may need to be hospitalized sometime for infusion of fluids and oxygen as well as close monitoring. Antiviral medicines are effective in first few days after infection to curtail possibility of severe symptoms.