Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. Almost all babies get it before the age of 2. Your baby can get RSV at any time of year, but it’s most common from November to April.
Signs and symptoms of RSV
For most healthy children, signs and symptoms of RSV are similar to those of a cold and can last about two weeks. They can include:
- Runny nose
- Sluggish or being inactive
- Wheezing or having trouble breathing
Some babies have a high risk of getting severe RSV. This includes premature babies and babies with lung problems, heart problems and other chronic illnesses. Severe RSV may lead to other serious infections, like:
- Bronchiolitis, an infection that causes swelling in the smallest air passages in the lungs
- Pneumonia, an infection in one or both lungs
RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age.
Call your baby’s health care provider right away if your baby:
- Has a cough that gets worse, or she coughs up yellow, green or gray mucus
- Has a fever higher than 100.4 F if your baby is younger than 2 months, higher than 101F if your baby is 3 to 6 months old or higher than 103F if your baby is older than 6 months
- Looks dehydrated. This means your baby doesn’t have enough water in his body. Your baby may be dehydrated if he has fewer tears when crying or sunken eyes or if he urinates less frequently.
- Isn’t hungry
- Has a thick nasal discharge
- Has trouble breathing or her mouth and fingernails look blue
Prevent the spread of RSV
You can help protect your baby from RSV by:
- Keeping your baby away from people who are sneezing or coughing
- Making sure everyone who touches your baby has clean hands
- Keeping your baby away from crowds of people
- Not letting anyone to smoke near your baby
Babies who are at high risk of severe RSV may get medicine that helps prevent RSV from becoming severe. Your baby may get this medicine called palivizumab during the fall and winter months. The medicine doesn’t cure RSV, and it’s not used to treat children who already have severe RSV or to prevent mild RSV. If your baby is at high risk for severe RSV, talk to her provider about treating your baby with palivizumab.
Treatment for RSV
There is no specific treatment for RSV. If your baby has RSV, you can help relieve symptoms by making sure she gets extra rest and drinks lots of fluids. You can use a rubber suction bulb to help clear mucus from her nose. And use a cool-mist humidifier to help your baby breathe more easily. If your baby has a fever, talk to her provider about using acetaminophen.
For more information about RSV and other health conditions, visit marchofdimes.org