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RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) Infection

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common cause of respiratory infections in infants and young children. The infection occurs more often in the winter and early spring. RSV is so common that almost all children have had the virus by the age of 2. The symptoms of RSV are usually mild. But, it can be a serious problem in high-risk infants and young children. These children may have more serious infections and difficulty breathing.

How RSV spreads

RSV spreads easily when people with the infection cough or sneeze. It also spreads by direct contact with an infected person. For example, by kissing a child with the virus. And, the virus can live on hard surfaces. A person can get the infection by touching something with the virus on it. For example, crib rails or door knobs. It spreads quickly in group settings, such as daycare and schools.

Symptoms of RSV

Most babies and children with an RSV infection have the same symptoms they might have with a cold or flu. These include a stuffy or runny nose, a cough, headache, and a low fever.

Treating RSV

There is no specific treatment for RSV. Antibiotics are not useful against viruses, so they are not prescribed. Try the following to relieve some of your child's symptoms:

  • Ask your health care provider or nurse about lowering your child's fever. You should know what medicine to use and how much and how often to use it. Make sure your child isn't wearing too much clothing. 

  • If your child is old enough, give him or herfluids, such as water and juice.

  • Remove mucus from your infant’s nose with a rubber bulb suction device. Be gentle to avoid causingmore swelling and discomfort. Ask your health care provider or nurse for instructions.

  • Do not let anyone smoke around your child.

Infants and children with severe symptoms are hospitalized. They may receive oxygen, have mucus suctioned, or be intubated and put on ventilators (breathing tubes are inserted and attached to machines that assist with breathing). 

 

When to seek medical care

Call your child's provider right away if your child has any of the following:

  • Fever

    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

    • In a child under 2, a fever that lasts more than 24 hours

    • Ina child 2 years or older, a fever that lasts more than 3 days

    • In a child of any age who has a repeated temperature of 104°F (40.0°C) or higher

    • A seizure with a high fever

  • A cough

  • Wheezing, breathing faster than usual, or trouble breathing

  • Flaring of the nostrils or straining of the chest or stomach while breathing

  • Skin around the mouth or fingers turning bluish

  • Restlessness or irritability, unable to be soothed

  • Trouble eating, drinking, or swallowing

Preventing RSV infection

To help prevent the infection:

  • Make sure your hands are clean before holding or touching your child. Wash your hands often with warm water and soap. Or, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner that contains at least 60% alcohol.

  • Clean all surfaces with disinfectant cleaner or wipes.

  • Teach your child to keep his or her hands clean. Have your child wash his or her hands often or use alcohol-based hand cleaner when appropriate.

  • Have other family members or caregivers clean their hands before holding or touching your child.

  • Monitor your own health and that of family members and playmates. Try to prevent contact between your child and those with a cold or fever.

  • Do not smoke around your child.

  • Ask your child's health care provider if your child is at risk for RSV. And, ask about monthly injfections during RSV seacon to help prevent the illness.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 8/29/2014
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