Frequently asked questions about premature bronchiolitis

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WHAT IS bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a respiratory infection caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in which the smallest tubes that carry air into the lungs, the bronchi and bronchioles, become inflamed, which makes it difficult to breathe.

WHAT IS RSV?

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. This virus is the leading cause of severe acute respiratory infection, which usually manifests in the form of bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Additionally, it is the leading cause of hospitalisation due to lower respiratory tract infections in children under 2 years of age in developed countries.

WHAT ARE THE INITIAL SYMPTOMS?

Bronchiolitis usually begins with common cold symptoms: nasal congestion, rhinitis and, sometimes, a fever. It may get worse after three to four days, when breathing difficulties, persistent cough and noisy breathing (wheezing) appear.

Some children may have breathing difficulties that can lead to feeding problems, and which sometimes cause choking. This is all because their bronchioles are obstructed by inflammation.

Who should get vaccinated?

The bronchiolitis vaccine (two doses) is available free of charge to children aged 6-24 months, pregnant women (in each pregnancy and any month of pregnancy), and women who have recently given birth and did not receive the vaccine while pregnant (up to 10 days after delivery). It is also recommended for people over 65 years of age, people aged 2-65 years with risk factors (smokers, people with obesity, asthma, cancer, HIV, and genetic, rheumatic, cardiac, respiratory, renal, and other diseases that affect immunity).

Health professionals are also advised to get the vaccine every year. Anyone not belonging to these risk groups can also get vaccinated if they want, but in these cases it would not be free of charge.

Are some children more vulnerable or at greater risk of complications and severe cases of disease?

Some groups of people are at increased risk of developing severe RSV bronchiolitis, for example: infants under three months of age; premature infants (born before the 35th week of pregnancy); infants with chronic lung disease (such as chronic lung disease of prematurity or bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis, lobar emphysema or pulmonary hypoplasia); infants with heart disease; immunocompromised patients; and those with chronic neuromuscular disease.

Children with congenital heart disease, malnutrition and exposure to passive smoking also form part of this group. At the same time, children with incomplete immunisation schedules and socio-economically vulnerable children are also at increased risk.

The risk of hospitalisation for RSV infection is 4-5 times higher for this population compared to healthy children. There is also a higher risk of severe disease progression and complications.

Meanwhile, breastfeeding protects against the disease.

Can you get bronchiolitis more than once?

Yes, this is possible. However, generally speaking, reinfections are less aggressive.

How long does bronchiolitis last in babies?

Bronchiolitis usually lasts around 12 days. Children with severe cases may continue coughing and wheezing for several weeks.

In which season is the risk of catching bronchiolitis at its highest?

Bronchiolitis occurs in epidemics during winter and early spring. Generally speaking, most cases occur between October and March, although sporadic cases can appear throughout the year.

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