House Calls runs every two weeks. Today's column is written by Aleen Huston, respiratory care practitioner and certified respiratory therapist at Sutter Coast Hospital.

During the cold-weather months, hospital facilities are on high alert, especially Sutter Coast Hospital, for Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

RSV is a childhood infection as common as influenza. It's responsible for one of every 13 visits to a pediatrician and one of every 38 emergency room trips. It infects most children sooner or later (usually before the age of 2). It often starts out with cold symptoms. For many babies and young children, the virus is no more troublesome than a cold. RSV infections usually occur during the winter months, with its peak in January and February in the Del Norte County.

Just like a cold, RSV can be spread when someone with the infection

sneezes or coughs. The droplet stays in the air and if someone inhales

the particles or the particles contact their nose, mouth, or eye, they

can become infected.

The virus can survive on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails

for many hours. It can live on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands

for shorter amounts of time.

RSV usually begins four to six days after exposure with a runny nose

and decrease in appetite. Coughing, sneezing, and fever typically

develop one to three days later. In some cases, wheezing may also occur.

In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity, and

breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection. Most

otherwise-healthy infants infected with RSV do not require

hospitalization. In most cases, including among those who need to be

hospitalized, full recovery from illness occurs in about one to two


Call your health care provider if breathing difficulties or other

symptoms of this disorder appear. Any breathing difficulties in an

infant are an emergency. Seek medical attention right away.

The most important way to help stop infection from spreading is

frequent hand washing and wiping of hard surfaces with soap and water or

disinfectant. Also, persons with RSV illness should not share cups or

eating utensils with others.

People with cold-like symptoms should not interact with high-risk

children. If this is not possible, people should cover their mouth and

nose when coughing or sneezing and then wash their hands before

providing any care. They should also refrain from kissing high-risk

children while they have cold-like symptoms.

When possible, limiting the time that high-risk children spend in

child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings may help

prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season.

Is there a treatment for RSV? For mild RSV cases, some require no

specific treatment from doctors. Antibiotics aren't used because RSV is a

virus and antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. Medication

may sometimes be given to help open airways.

For infants, however, RSV can be more serious and may require

hospitalization so that the baby can be watched closely, receive fluids

and be treated for breathing problems.

At home, kids with RSV should be kept as comfortable as possible,

provided plenty of fluids and allowed time to recover. To help your

child breathe easier, using a cool-mist vaporizer during the winter

months keeps the air moist. Avoid using hot water and steam vaporizers,

which can be hazardous and can cause scalding. Remember to clean out the

vaporizer daily with bleach to discourage mold.

If your child has a fever, use nonaspirin fever medicines such as

acetaminophen. Aspirin should not be used in children with viral

illnesses. The reason to avoid aspirin is because it can increase your

children's chances of developing Reye's syndrome if they take them while

they also have a viral infection.

For more information, visit the Center of Disease Control and

Prevention (CDC) website at

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at

Sutter Coast Hospital,