Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
This handout will give you information about the symptoms and treatment of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). If you have further questions about RSV, please contact your child's clinic, doctor, or nurse.
What is RSV?
RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, one of the most important causes of lung infection in infants and young children. RSV affects small airways in the lung called bronchioles (bronk-ee-oles). You may hear of RSV being referred to as bronchiolitis (bronk-ee-ol-itis).
RSV is a very common respiratory infection. By the age of three, almost all children will have had RSV.
When does RSV occur?
RSV infections occur most often in the winter and spring months.
What are the symptoms of RSV infection?
The symptoms of RSV infection are similar to the common cold. Children will have a clear runny nose, fever and cough. Some children with RSV will also develop an ear infection. Usually, children with RSV infection will have a mild fever (less than 101°F) for a few days, a runny nose for 1-2 weeks, and a cough which may last for several weeks. Most children with RSV will have mild cold symptoms. However, some children, especially infants less than one year old, or children with other medical problems can develop serious RSV infection. Children with serious RSV infection will have fast breathing and may struggle to breathe.
When should I call the doctor?
You should call your doctor if your child has cold symptoms and any of these:
- Breathing more than 40-60 times a minute for an infant.
- Breathing more than 30-40 times a minute for a young child.
Struggling To Breathe:
- Chest is pulling in between ribs or above breastbone with breathing.
- Nostrils are flaring out with breathing.
- Child is making a grunting noise during breathing.
- Bluish color around nose and mouth or fingertips.
- Temperature more than 101°F.
- Wheezing sound is heard with breathing or cough.
- Appears very tired.
- Eating or drinking poorly.
- Has other serious medical problems, such as heart, lung or immune system disease, or was premature with lung disease developing after birth.
How is RSV treated?
Most children with mild RSV will get better in several weeks on their own, although a loose cough may last up to six weeks. If your child has a fever, your child's doctor may suggest Tylenol® to make your child more comfortable. It is important to encourage small amounts of fluids (water, juice or popsicles) often if your child has a fever. Children with a serious case of RSV, especially infants under one year of age or children with other medical problems may be admitted to the hospital for treatment. Treatment for RSV could include oxygen, intravenous (I.V.) fluids, and aerosol cool mist medicines to ease breathing, along with other therapies or medicines ordered by your child's doctor.
Can my child get RSV again?
Yes. A child with RSV infection may get RSV again in the future, although future infections are most often not as severe. Adults can also have RSV infection, although symptoms are most often like a cold.
How can I help prevent the spread of RSV?
RSV is spread by coming in close contact with an infected person and the droplets they produce when they cough or sneeze. Careful hand washing with soap and warm water then use hand gel. This is the best way to prevent the spread of RSV. If your child is in clinic or in the hospital with possible RSV infection they will be placed in a room with the door closed. Keeping the door to your child's room closed will lessen the chance another child would get exposed to RSV. You may be asked to wear a mask, gown or gloves while in your child's room. Please leave these items in your child's room, and do careful hand washing followed by hand gel before leaving the room.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 05/16/2012
Copyright © 05/16/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4319
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