RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) Infection

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is the major cause of lung infections in young children and babies. RSV is so common that almost all children have had the virus by the age of 2. Many children have the illness more than once. RSV usually results in mild, cold-like symptoms. In some cases, it can cause serious lung infections and breathing problems. Because of this, it is important to know what to do if you suspect serious RSV infection.

How RSV Spreads
Boy and girl wash hands.
Frequent handwashing helps prevent the spread of RSV.

RSV spreads easily from person to person through fluids from the nose and mouth of an infected person. 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

Treatment will focus on relieving your child’s symptoms and ensuring that the infection does not get worse. Antibiotics are not useful against viruses, so they are not prescribed. Try the following to help your child feel more comfortable and get better faster:

  • Feed your child plenty of clear, room-temperature fluids, such as water and apple juice.

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.

  • Keep your infant’s nose clear using a rubber bulb suction device to remove any mucus.

  • Elevate your child’s head slightly with pillows to make breathing easier.

  • Run a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in your child’s room to keep the air moist and nasal passages clear.

  • Do not let anyone smoke around your child.

  • Treat your child’s fever with children’s acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). Do not give ibuprofen to an infant 6 months of age or younger. Never give your child aspirin.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor right away if your otherwise healthy child has any of the following:

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

  • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39.0°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

  • A seizure caused by the fever

  • A harsh or persistent cough

  • Wheezing, breathing faster than usual, or trouble breathing

  • Nausea or vomiting

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

  • Restless or irritable, unable to be soothed

  • Unusually drowsy or listless

  • Less urination or dry mouth or cracked lips

  • 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 gel that contains at least 60% alcohol. Note: Hand gels are not effective at killing germs if the hands are visibly dirty.

  • Teach your child to keep his or her hands clean. Have your child wash his or her hands often or use alcohol-based hand gel 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 doctor if your child is at high risk and should receive monthly injections to prevent infectious diseases like RSV.