Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Article at a Glance:

  • RSV usually looks similar to the common cold.
  • RSV is common among children under two but in certain at-risk kids it can develop into a more serious illness.
  • Proper hand washing and avoiding exposure are two important preventative steps.

Along with snow and muddy boots, Utah’s winter months also bring sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. One cause of these cold-like symptoms in young children is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Although this virus is usually minor, RSV can sometimes progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia—so it’s important for parents to be aware of the warning signs.

RSV is a very common virus, and virtually all children will be infected with it in their first year or two. Since RSV infection doesn’t provide complete future immunity, re-infection can occur repeatedly throughout a child’s lifetime. RSV is transmitted through the mucus or saliva of the person who is infected—for example, through sneezing, coughing or hand-to-mouth contact.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

The typical signs and symptoms of RSV resemble the common cold—runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and fever. In children that are otherwise healthy, the virus may not progress further. The majority of children with RSV improve with rest and fever medication. However, if your infant or toddler develops more severe signs such as wheezing, rapid or labored breathing, difficulty eating, or a blue tint around the lips, see your pediatrician to assess your child for further treatment.

Who is at Highest Risk?

Infants who are premature or who have certain medical problems (such as congenital heart disease, chronic lung disease, or impaired immunity) are at greater risk for more severe RSV infection and may need to be hospitalized for treatment.

Preventing RSV

As with most common illnesses, the best prevention is good hygiene—such as thorough hand washing and using tissues when coughing or sneezing. If your infant or toddler is at greater risk for RSV complications, you may want to take extra care to avoid people with colds during the peak months (November to April). Infants in this high-risk category can also be given a monthly prescription injection of antibodies called Synagis. Contact your pediatrician for more information about this preventive therapy.

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Reviewed on November 29, 2019 by: Jonathen Bartholomew, D.O.
Jonathen Bartholomew, D.O.
Board-certified Pediatrician

As a pediatrician and father of six kids, Dr. Bartholomew has a lot of experience with twins and premature infants. In addition to getting to know his patient families, he enjoys the great outdoors, Dr. Seuss, and BYU football.

Cherry Tree Office
Full Bio

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