Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV is a common respiratory infection and the leading cause of bronchiolitis in children. Usually, when children contract this virus and require immediate hospitalization, parents are often curious to know how long before their child is discharged from the hospital. To date, however, there’s no predictive tool available for medical professionals to answer this wanting question. Now, scientists from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago have found nose swabs could serve as a predictive tool to determine babies that would recover quickly or perhaps, need prolonged treatment. 

The study which was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that despite the similarities in clinical presentations of the virus and similar viral load, some children showed higher deterioration to the tissue that lines the nose, and this was strongly linked to a longer stay in the intensive care unit. 

Their findings suggest that there are distinct changes in the tissue that lines the nasal cavity near the time the child is being admitted to the pediatric ICU capable of telling who will recover from critical RSV quickly and children who will be needing longer respiratory support.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion after analyzing nasal swabs obtained from over 33 infants within three days they were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. The children were all below 2 years and showed symptoms including wheezing, trouble breathing, rales, abnormally rapid breathing, etc. The samples obtained from all the infants were studied by trained study personnel to ensure maximum consistency. In addition, they measured the expression of RSV genes in all the babies to quantify the viral load.

By the end of the study, the team found that the severity of the disease in a baby or child correlated to the different set of genes expressed in the lining of the nose that is being activated in the body’s response to the virus. 

According to the study authors, the ability to tell whether a child or baby with critical RSV bronchiolitis will recover quickly or stay much longer in the pediatric ICU would supply vital information for parents and health professionals. This includes but is not limited to helping health professionals better understand how to treat RSV in infants as well as also aiding parents to know what to expect if their child contracts the virus.

“At this stage, we saw that more injury in the nasal mucosal membranes of children with RSV may be a marker of a dysregulated response to the virus and predict more prolonged illness,” said Dr. Bria M. Coates from the Department of Pediatrics, Northwestern University, Chicago who also is the Crown Family Research Scholar in Developmental Biology. “These are promising findings that ultimately might offer better answers to parents and the care team.”

Despite their findings, the researchers see the need for further validation in a larger group of children before they can be applied clinically. Chances are, if the findings remain unchanged following the involvement of a larger group of children, then a PCR test could be developed to tell apart kids who are likely to take longer to recover from critical RSV bronchiolitis.

It’s worth noting that the symptoms of RSV may not be so visible, but endeavor to look out for symptoms such as irritability, breathing difficulties, and decreased activity in your child. Symptoms could go away on their own or oftentimes result in serious complications that would warrant hospitalization.

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