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Young Children and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

By Charles Sprague, M.D.

Unfortunately, the truth is that every child in the world by 2 years of age is going to have had Respiratory ​Syncytial Virus (RSV) at some point in their lives. RSV is a very common respiratory infection that generally affects younger kids. It is most prominent in January, February and March, but can be seen as early as November and go until late April. It spreads like wildfire through day cares and anywhere kids congregate.

Symptoms of RSV

Typical symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Slight cough
  • Low fevers
  • Mild sore throat

The typical symptoms of RSV are like normal cold symptoms. The first several days will consist of a clear runny nose and a little bit of a cough. There might be a harshness to the cough, but nothing to worry about too much. Low grade fevers are also possible. These symptoms tend to last 10 to 14 days.

Severe symptoms:

  • Bronchiolitis
  • High fever
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing

These severe symptoms are more likely to affect infants and small children. About three to four days into the illness, it will drop down to the lower airways on your child’s chest. At that point it becomes bronchiolitis, or infection of the bronchioles. Usually there is a slight fever, but it can become a harsh fever. Breathing is often short and shallow.

Treatments for RSV

Antibiotics will not cure or lessen the effects of RSV, so supportive care is the main treatment. Once a child has contracted the virus, it is going to run its course for a couple of weeks. It is recommended that parents continue suctioning their child’s nose, provide fluids and nurture the sick child until better.

If you believe your child has developed a secondary condition, such as pneumonia or an ear infection, talk to your pediatrician about treatment for any additional infections.

Is there a vaccine for RSV?

There is a vaccine available called Synagis, however it is for select groups: children born prematurely, very small infants and kids with heart disease or premature lung disease. These children are at risk to have a bad outcome or a very complicated case. For the rest of the population, Synagis is not a viable option.

Prevention of RSV

The best way to prevent RSV is good hygiene and hand washing. RSV can live on surfaces for a long time, so keeping surfaces clean and washing hands regularly are the best ways to prevent the disease.

RSV is not usually a life-threatening disease. However, seek medical attention if your child has severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or a high fever.