RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common childhood illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It typically circulates from late fall to early spring. Historically, most children were exposed to the virus by the time they were 2 years old. While you can get RSV more than once, most subsequent infections are milder than the first due to some level of natural immunity. The COVID pandemic impacted the typical spread of RSV because many children were kept at home during the years that they would normally be exposed to the virus, so most children under 4 years are susceptible. This year, RSV began circulating during the summer months and is now increasing as we head into the winter months.
For most healthy children, the symptoms of RSV are similar to a cold and may include fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, tiredness, fussiness, and/or poor feeding. Symptoms generally last one week but can linger for up to three weeks. RSV symptoms typically peak on days 3-5 of illness.
Because RSV creates thick mucus in the nose and infects the lungs, some babies will develop more severe illness. Your child should be evaluated by a provider if they cannot hydrate, their fever is severe or prolonged, or they have trouble breathing. Warning signs that your baby is working harder than normal to breathe include:
RSV is a contagious illness that can spread from person to person through saliva or mucus on unclean hands, objects, or surfaces. Symptoms can appear 2-8 days after contact with RSV. It is important to:
Yes. Factors that may increase this risk of complications with RSV infection include:
*Some of these risk factors allow babies to qualify for a preventative medicine called palivizumab (Synagis). If you are concerned about your child’s risk for severe infection, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.
Providers diagnose respiratory viruses by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam. In most cases, RSV is mild and does not need to be distinguished from the common cold. Some healthcare centers, such as emergency rooms, may test your child’s nasal mucus to tell you if they have RSV specifically. Allegro does not offer this test because the result will not change the treatment plan, your child won’t like being swabbed, and it is expensive.
There is no specific treatment for RSV. Children benefit most from care that supports their breathing, eating, and sleep while their immune system fights off the virus. These supports include:
Antibiotics do not work to treat RSV because it is a virus, and antibiotics only work against bacteria. Vaccines and antiviral medicines are being studied but are not yet available. Most cases are treated at home. Severe cases can require hospitalization if your child’s oxygen is too low or they cannot stay hydrated without IV fluids.
Here is a video to with additional information on the causes and diagnosis of RSV.