What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial [sin-SISH-uhl] virus (RSV) is a viral
infection that affects the breathing passages such as the
nose and lungs.
RSV is spread from person to person. When people
with RSV sneeze or cough, they release droplets
containing the virus into the air. If another
person comes in contact with the droplets,
he or she can become infected with RSV
How common is RSV?
Almost all children are infected with RSV
before their second birthday. In the United States,
most RSV infections occur between November and April.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
In healthy babies older than 6 months, the
symptoms of RSV are similar to the common cold.
They may include the following:
• Congestion • Sore throat
• Runny nose • Dry cough
In babies less than 6 months of age, premature
babies, and babies with heart problems, lung
problems, or weakened immune systems, RSV may lead to
more severe diseases such as lower respiratory tract infections.
If your baby has any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician
• Severe cough
• Brief stops in
Difficulty breathing or
• Irritability or fussiness
• Decreased activity
• Limited interest in eating
How serious is RSV?
Healthy babies more than 6 months old with RSV usually get better on their own in a week or two.
In other babies, RSV can lead to more serious health problems.
Treating Respiratory Syncytial Virus
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What are the complications of RSV?
In some babies, RSV can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
These complications can result in hospitalization.
Can RSV be prevented?
There is a prescription medicine that can help prevent RSV in
babies at high risk for RSV. The medicine is given by injection
once per month during RSV season. Your baby may be eligible
to receive the medicine depending on gestational age at birth,
age at the beginning of RSV season, or the presence of problems
with the lungs or heart.
How is RSV diagnosed?
A diagnosis of RSV is usually necessary only if the baby has severe
symptoms. In that case, doctors may use a nasal swab or nasal
wash to collect a sample that can be checked for the virus.
Doctors may also measure the level of oxygen in the bloodstream,
order blood tests, or perform a chest X-ray to look for pneumonia.
What treatment will my baby receive?
Babies with mild symptoms can be treated at home with fluids,
rest, and medicines to reduce fever. Babies with more severe
symptoms may need hospital care. Treatment there may include:
• Intravenous (IV) fluids
• Medicines called bronchodilators to help with breathing
• Extra oxygen – usually given through a nasal tube or a mask
• Mechanical ventilation
Antibiotics do not work against viruses like RSV. However,
these medicines may be used if a baby develops a bacterial
infection, for example, an ear infection or bacterial pneumonia.
What will happen next?
Most babies respond well to treatment for RSV. Each baby
is different. Talk to your baby’s health care team. They can
answer any questions you have about your baby
Antibiotics – medicines that fight
infections caused by bacteria
Apnea – a brief stop in breathing
Bronchiolitis – inflammation of the
small airways entering the lungs
Bronchodilators – medicines that
open the airways to the lungs
Intravenous – through a vein
Mechanical ventilator – a
machine that helps your baby
breathe by moving air in and out
of the lungs
Nasal – relating to the nose
Nebulizer – machine delivering
medicines as fine mist that is
inhaled (breathed in)
Pneumonia – infection of the lungs
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) –
a viral infection that affects the
breathing passages such as the
nose and lungs
Retraction – using chest muscles
in order to breathe in, which causes
the skin to suck in around the bones
Trachea – windpipe