Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can resemble a common cold. For children, though, especially those younger than 2 years old, it can be more serious.
RSV is an infection of the lungs and airways – it is a major cause of respiratory illness in children. In the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States, RSV occurs most frequently between November and April.
Keep reading to learn more about RSV, including symptoms, treatments and when you should call the doctor.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of RSV?
Kids with RSV might have cold symptoms, such as:
- a stuffy or runny nose
- sore throat
- mild headache
- not eating or drinking well
- a general ill feeling
Sometimes, an RSV infection can lead to:
- wheezing (a whistling sound heard with breathing)
- bronchiolitis or pneumonia, especially in premature babies; infants younger than 1 year old; and kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart, or immune system (such as asthma)
Is RSV Contagious?
RSV is highly contagious. It spreads through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It also can live on surfaces (like counters or doorknobs) and on hands and clothing. So people can get it if they touch something that’s contaminated.
Because it can spread easily by touching infected people or surfaces, washing hands well and often can help stop it. Wash your hands after being around someone who has cold symptoms.
RSV can spread quickly through schools and childcare centers. Babies often get it when older kids carry the virus home from school and pass it to them. School-age kids who have a cold should keep away from younger siblings — especially babies — until their symptoms clear up.
How Is RSV Treated?
Most cases of RSV are mild and don’t need medical treatment. However, the infection can be more serious in babies and toddlers. Some might need treatment in a hospital where they can be watched closely and get supportive treatment for any breathing problems or dehydration.
- Make your child as comfortable as possible.
- Allow time for recovery.
- Provide plenty of fluids. Babies may not feel like drinking, so offer fluids in small amounts often.
If your child is too young to blow their own nose, use saline (saltwater) nose spray or drops and a nasal aspirator (or bulb syringe) to remove sticky nasal fluids. Clearing a baby’s nose before offering fluids can make it easier for them to drink.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call your child’s pediatrician if your infant or child:
- develops a fever after having a cold or has a high fever
- has a cough or other symptoms that get worse
- is wheezing
- has labored or rapid breathing
- shows signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet diapers than usual
- refused to breastfeed or bottle-feed
Get medical help right away if your child:
- is struggling to catch their breath
- is very drowsy
- has lips or fingernails that look blue
For more information, visit https://www.childrensal.org/respiratory-illnesses