A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

RSV: A common, but potentially severe, respiratory virus

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a virus with symptoms that make it difficult to breathe because it causes inflammation primarily of the lower airways. It is most common in children younger than two years old. RSV is the most common cause of respiratory virus hospitalizations in the United States.

Mother holding her baby with RSV at a doctor's office

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a virus that makes it difficult to breathe because it causes inflammation of the upper and lower airways.

The most common RSV symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing
  • Fever

How to protect your child

Respiratory secretions such as saliva and nasal mucus spread RSV. When respiratory secretions from an infected person enter your child’s body through their mouth, nose or eyes they can become infected.

“The best way to prevent your infant from getting an RSV infection is to avoid others with respiratory symptoms. RSV typically causes mild cold symptoms in older children and adults, but it can cause much more severe infections in young infants,” said Dr. Thomas Boyce, pediatric infectious disease provider with Marshfield Children’s.

RSV is most common from November to May, typically peaking in January or February.

“This year, RSV is in full force, a few months earlier than is typical,” Dr. Boyce said. “This may be because during the last couple years, RSV was less common due to precautions taken to prevent COVID-19 transmission.”

Infants at highest risk for RSV, such as premature infants and those with chronic lung or heart disease, can be given monthly infusions of a monoclonal antibody against respiratory syncytial virus to protect them during the season.

What to do if your child has RSV

If your baby has respiratory syncytial virus, keeping them away from other children is important to avoid infecting others. You should adhere to any recommendations from your child’s school or daycare center regarding when they can return.

Severe cases are more common among:

  • Immunocompromised children
  • Premature infants and infants less than 12 weeks old
  • Infants with chronic lung disease
  • Infants with certain congenital heart diseases
  • Infants living in crowded living environments
  • Infants who are bottle-fed

The best way to treat RSV is by making sure your child can breathe, eat and drink. Using a bulb syringe to suction mucus from their nose may be helpful. Fever-reducers can be used if they have a fever.

If the baby or child is breathing too hard or too fast to feed effectively, they should be brought to the emergency department.

If you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, please talk to their pediatrician.

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