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The human respiratory syncytial virus or RSV is a virus that affects the lower respiratory tract (the lungs and bronchial tubes). It is part of a group of viruses that cause the cell walls of cells to fuse with each other to form clumps. It is a common cause of hospitalization in infants and children, although only about 3% of the persons who contract it tend to become that ill.
Palivizumab can be used to prevent at-risk infants from contracting the virus, but is not effective once a person is infected. As the virus is ubiquitous in the environment and there is no vaccine, infection is inevitable. Although a patient who has recently had the virus is immune, immunity fades over time and re-infection is possible, even in adults. As the virus has no treatment and the patient must be given supportive care until the virus runs its course. In most cases, the disease resolves itself in 2-8 days, although symptoms can last for three weeks.
The virus spreads by direct contact with an infected surface. Depending on the surface, the virus can remain viable for 30 minutes (on the hands) to five hours (on a countertop). It can spread very quickly - a single infected child in a daycare facility can spread the disease to all the other children within the day. Because of its mode of transmission, it tends to spread faster in the winter in temperate climates, and during rainy periods in tropical climates.
Although RSV is rarely fatal, it can result in asthma later in life. It tends to only be fatal in young infants who have other major health issues, such as premature infants, the immunocompromised, and infants with congenital heart or lung defects. In these and a few other patients, the disease causes inflammation of the small airways of the lungs and can lead to pneumonia.
Care must be taken to distinguish the condition from influenza, which is active during the same periods of time. RSV usually causes unusual lung sounds and shows indication of hypoxia on the skin. However, only an immunoassay is definitive.