RSV spreading across the province: how to treat kids at home

Amid an unprecedented surge in viral illnesses in children across the province, forcing some children’s hospitals to postpone some surgeries and treatments, Ontario’s Health Minister Sylvia Jones made an attempt to reassure parents last week that their children would receive timely health care.

“I want to give the people of Ontario reassurance that if your child is sick in the province of Ontario you are going to get the health care you deserve and you need, in a timely manner,” Jones said at a news conference in Toronto. “Though there are some early positive signs that the pressure could be easing somewhat. Newly released data shows there are more children currently in intensive care across Ontario than available beds to care for them.”

There are currently 114 children in ICUs, two more than the total number of beds available, provincial figures released Thursday show. Only two children in intensive care have COVID-19.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV, shows up with the same symptoms as the common cold — including a cough, runny nose, fever and a lost of appetite. In very young babies it can cause bronchiolitis, an infection that causes wheezing and difficulty breathing.

How long does it last?

An RSV infection usually takes about 10 days to run its course with days 4 and 5 being the toughest time.

“This usually gets worse before it gets better. And that is a natural course of RSV. And after that peak children usually do then turn the corner and start doing much better,” says Dr. Melissa Langevin, an emergency medicine pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

How can you treat RSV at home?

For babies its important to help clear out the nose of congestion so they can drink and swallow properly. Using a baby saline spray for the nose along with a snot sucking device like the Nosefrida will help as well to clear the airways of mucous that could otherwise choke a child. This will also reduce the amount of congestion travelling down into the throat and into the chest.

Keeping little ones hydrated through this infection is also important. Adequate hydration can help fight a fever and can also thin the mucous so it’s easier to cough out.

Langevin says not to worry too much about solid foods when kids have a reduced appetite during their illness but absolutely keep offering drinks frequently.

Normally fevers can be treated safely at home with children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If you need some and none is available in your area you can contact a compounding pharmacy in the area and the pharmacist can make some for you. In the local area, Hagersville Pharmasave can compound children’s acetaminophen.

When is it an emergency?

When a child is having obvious signs of breathing difficulty, it’s time to go to the hospital. This can be seen when a child is working really hard to breathe and when they are breathing in, the skin between their ribs and in the dip of the centre of the neck pulls inward. Take your child to the emergency room is they are having trouble breathing or their lips look blue.

In any baby younger than three months, a fever should always go to the emergency room – or if they are unable to drink.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, any child older than 6 months needs to see a doctor if they have had a fever for more than 72 hours, a loss of appetite or vomitting or coughing to the point of choking or throwing up.

Is there a vaccine or medication for RSV?

There is no vaccine to prevent RSV for the general public, but children under the age of two and who are at high risk of severe illness from RSV may be eligible for the drug palivizumab used to prevent a serious lower tract infection caused by the virus. Some children who were born premature or have been diagnosed with chronic illness or developmental conditions such as congenital heart disease or down syndrome may need this course of treatment. Antibiotics will not resolve RSV as it is a virus.

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