Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common virus that nearly all children get by age 2, but infection can occur at any age.
RSV infections typically occur during the winter months, but outbreaks can occur at other times as well. It is a very contagious virus that usually spreads through contact with mucus, saliva, or droplets in the air from an infected person. It can also spread through contact with surfaces that an infected person has touched. Most of the time, RSV causes symptoms that are similar to a common cold, but it can be more severe for some children.
Children with higher risk of severe RSV include:
- Babies under 6 months of age
- Babies born prematurely
- Babies and children with chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, neuromuscular disorders, or weakened immune systems
RSV is a virus, and there is no medication to treat it. Most children will recover at home with no need for treatment. However, if needed, hospitals can treat children with oxygen and other types of supportive care to help with their recovery.
Researchers are working to develop vaccines to help prevent RSV.
Common RSV symptoms include:
- Runny/stuffy nose
- Decreased appetite
Infants and children who develop these symptoms may visit a pediatrician for evaluation and recommendations for care.
Severe RSV symptoms can include:
- Fast breathing
- Flaring of the nostrils
- Grunting during breathing
- Belly breathing
- Tugging between the ribs
More severe RSV causes bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and can cause pneumonia as well. Sometimes, infants and children who develop these symptoms may be hospitalized for care.
When to seek care
Most RSV infections go away on their own in seven to 10 days, but the cough can last two to three weeks. Pediatricians at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital are always here to offer advice or evaluate your child.
You should call your child’s primary care provider if:
- Your child has a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts longer than 72 hours.
- Your baby or child isn’t feeling better after 10 days.
- You notice signs of dehydration (fewer wet diapers, dry lips and mouth, no tears produced when crying, a sunken soft spot on your baby’s head)
Seek emergency care if your child is:
- Under 1 month of age and has a fever of 100.4 or higher
- Appearing gray or blue
- Listless or unresponsive
It is very hard to prevent RSV in young children, especially in a daycare setting, but here are some tips to help:
Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer
Stay away from those infected with RSV
Teach older children to cover their cough
Clean high-touch surfaces frequently
Limit sharing of cups or utensils
If you have a newborn, you may consider limiting visitors during RSV season. Ensure any visitors are healthy, wash their hands before holding the baby, and refrain from kissing your baby. You might also ask visitors to wear a mask to further reduce risk.
During RSV season, just remember to monitor your child and know when to seek care. The pediatric experts at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital will always be here to help care for your child during RSV season.