What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infects almost all children at least once before they are 2 years old. Most of the time this virus only causes minor cold like symptoms; however, for some babies it can be more dangerous.

For premature babies, RSV can be very serious. Premature infants often have underdeveloped lungs and may not be strong enough to fight off RSV once they have been infected.

Each year, about 125,000 children are hospitalized in the United States with RSV disease, and approximately 500 of these children will die. In the first 2 years of life, RSV is the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis (a swelling of the small airways), and also can trigger other respiratory disorders such as asthma.

Who is at risk?

Infants born prematurely and term infants younger than 6 weeks are at increased risk for developing serious RSV disease. Children with medical conditions, such as chronic lung disease, serious heart problems, or problems with their immune systems that they were either born with or from treatments for cancer or organ transplants, also are at risk.

The following factors may place a child at higher risk for becoming infected with RSV:
• Living in crowded households (more than 4 people in the home)
• Other children living in the household (especially when 2 or more children share a bedroom)
• Attending a child care program
• Being born as one of multiple births (such as twins or triplets)

How is RSV spread?

Respiratory syncytial virus infection occurs most often from late fall to early spring. Most illness occurs usually between October and May, although there may be regional seasonal variations. It comes only from humans and is highly contagious. The virus can live for several hours on a surface such as a countertop, a table, a playpen, or unwashed hands. It is spread by direct or close physical contact, such as touching or kissing an infected person, or contact with a contaminated surface.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

For most children the symptoms of RSV resemble the common cold and include

  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • low grade fever.

Signs of more serious infection my include

  • difficult or rapid breathing
  • wheezing
  • irritability and restlessness
  • poor appetite.

How can I protect my child from RSV?

There are important steps you can take, especially in the first few months of your child’s life to prevent exposure to the virus including the following:

  • Make sure everyone who touches your baby always washes his or her hands first.
  • Keep your baby away from anyone who has a cold, fever, or runny nose, as well as from crowded areas like shopping malls.
  • Keep your baby away from tobacco smoke. Parents should be especially careful not to expose their infants and young children to secondhand tobacco smoke, which increases the risk of severe viral respiratory infections.

If your infant is younger than 2 years and is at high risk, there is a medication that we may prescribe that could reduce the risk of developing serious RSV infection by about 50%. Palivizumab is easy to administer and will not interfere or delay your child’s regular vaccinations.

How is RSV infection treated?

Most minor cases of RSV infection disappear on their own within 5 to 7 days; however, if your baby is experiencing severe symptoms, we may use a nasal secretion test to determine the cause of the infection. If you child needs to be hospitalized, we will work with you to insure the very best care for your child. Prompt treatment is especially important if your child is at high risk for developing serious RSV disease.

Used by Permission: The American Academy of Pediatrics.


"Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."
Psalm 127:3a,5a