RSV: What to Know

Your child isn’t feeling well and while it may seem like a run-of-the-mill cold, it could be something much worse – respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV for short. We are officially in the season when the virus rears its ugly head more often so it is important to know what it is and what warning signs to look for.

RSV is a viral infection that infects the lungs. It causes a condition called bronchiolitis, which is inflammation of the smaller airways of the lungs. RSV can infect people of all ages, but the most concerning population is in young children and infants. Almost all children are infected by the age of 3, with the peak number of cases appearing January and February. This is contagious and is spread when air droplets from the infected individual come in contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose of another person.

Symptoms of RSV include nasal drainage, fevers, decreased appetite, cough and sometimes wheezing. A cough may last for a few weeks. Decreased appetite is most commonly seen in young children and infants and is due primarily to nasal congestion. The warning signs to look for in RSV include retractions (sucking in of skin around ribs and throat when breathing), nasal flaring, grunting, and a blue discoloration of lips or extremities. If a child develops any of these symptoms, they need medical attention immediately. RSV can be especially dangerous in infants who have smaller airways. Other risk factors for complications include children born premature or have chronic lung or heart conditions.

Treatment is usually supportive which means the focus is on treating the symptoms. Nasal bulb suction in infants and young children is important to allow opening of the nasal airway to assist with breathing and feeding. Tylenol or ibuprofen may be used to help with fevers. In severe cases, some children may require hospitalization to receive oxygen, antiviral medication, or IV fluids if not able to eat or drink.

Nonetheless, in most cases, symptoms should improve in 3-7 days. However, wheezing or a cough that persists for a few weeks is common. One of the best ways to prevent severe cases is to avoid exposure to cigarette smoke. Also, try to isolate infants from any adults with colds or other respiratory infections, as RSV may simply look like the common cold in a healthy adult. As always, if you notice any concerning symptoms we encourage an evaluation by a medical provider.

If you believe your child is suffering from RSV, don’t hesitate to contact us or stop by one of our clinics so they can be seen.