Many people have never heard of it, but there’s a contagious virus out there that affects lungs and breathing passages. It has a tongue-twister name – Respiratory Syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) Virus, or RSV – and in healthy people it resembles a common cold. But in children, as well as the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, RSV often develops into something more serious.

Bronchiolitis and Asthma?

According to KidsHealth, children who have had bronchiolitis may be more likely to develop asthma later in life, but more research is needed to understand what, if any, relationship exists between bronchiolitis and asthma.

The virus affects millions of children every year, and nearly all children will have an RSV infection by their second birthday, notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately 40 percent of children exposed to RSV will have signs or symptoms of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) or pneumonia (lung infection), and a small percentage will even require hospitalization.

Understanding the Difference Between the Common Cold and RSV

It is not uncommon for people to confuse the common cold with RSV. Symptoms often parallel those associated with other respiratory infections. In young infants, symptoms may also include irritability, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing.

If you are unsure about the severity of an RSV infection, it is recommended that you take your child to a health care provider for treatment. Severe cases may require hospitalization and supplemental oxygen, suctioning mucous from the airways, or using a breathing tube.

5 Tips for Protecting Your Child from RSV

Unfortunately, there are no vaccinations for RSV and antibiotics are only effective if a secondary bacterial infection occurs. People are susceptible to RSV infections more than once, but symptoms are usually milder after the initial exposure. RSV is contagious and often spreads through direct contact with contaminated secretions, such as mucous.

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting your child from RSV infections:

  1. Encourage your child to wash hands often (with soap and water for 20 seconds).
  2. Teach your child to avoid touching his or her face with unwashed hands.
  3. Avoid close contact with sick people.
  4. Encourage your child to cover coughs and sneezes (into a tissue or upper sleeve).
  5. Keep sick children home from day care or school.
  6. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution (see below).

Moms should pay special attention to protecting children at high risk for developing severe disease if infected with RSV – premature infants, children under 2 years old with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems.

Disinfecting Surfaces Contaminated with RSV

RSV can survive on surfaces for several hours. To help stop the spread of RSV to other family members – especially young siblings or Grandma and Grandpa – moms should make a conscious effort to disinfect frequently touched hard surfaces.

Clean contaminated surfaces with detergent and water and then apply a one-to-ten dilution of regular bleach and water (e.g., one cup of bleach to approximately ten cups of water). If using high strength bleach, make a one-to-16 dilution (e.g., one cup of bleach to approximately 16 cups of water). This may not completely stop RSV in its tracks, but it will go a long way toward keeping your home safe and your kids healthy.