What is RSV and is my Baby at Risk?

Posted at 6:27 PM on Jan 9, 2023


RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is a common virus that generally causes mild flu-like symptoms. Outbreaks frequently occur in late fall, winter, and early spring. While most people recover within 1-2 weeks, the virus can be serious in infants and older adults.

The CDC states, “RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than one year of age in the United States.” These are severe cases, and hospitalization may be required.

RSV is very common. Most babies will have had RSV by their second birthday. So, if you are wondering if your baby is at risk? The answer is yes. Almost all babies will contract RSV at some point. The level of severity, however, may vary.

Symptoms of RSV

Symptoms of RSV commonly occur 3-4 days after contracting the virus; however, many are already contagious 1-2 days before the onset of symptoms. Meaning you may be spreading the virus to others without realizing it.

This can be avoided by always practicing good hand hygiene, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, avoiding touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, frequently cleaning high-trafficked areas, staying home when you are sick, and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when clean running water is not available.

Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties in infants

Elevating Symptoms

RSV is a virus, and there is currently no cure. The virus will run its course, and eventually, symptoms will subside. In the meantime, here are some ways to help alleviate the symptoms:

  • Fever and pain management with over-the-counter medications
  • Hydration
  • Rest

If your baby is experiencing symptoms, you should check with your physician on care options, including safe medications and the frequency they can be given.

How is RSV Spread and is there a Vaccination?

RSV is spread via airborne particles, direct contact and can be transmitted via surfaces. For high-risk children (such as premature infants born before 32 weeks, infants born with heart problems, immune-compromised children under two years old, and children with Down syndrome), there is now a vaccine that can help prevent hospitalization; however, it can be very expensive. 

Increased Risk of Serious RSV in Children and Babies

While most children and adults with mild symptoms will recover from RSV, certain risk factors may increase the odds of developing severe symptoms requiring hospitalization. These include:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants, especially those under six months
  • Children younger than two years old with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease
  • Children with a weakened immune system (immune-compromised)
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions

Seeking Medical Care

If your baby or child is experiencing symptoms, it is advised you seek medical attention. Your physician can then determine the level of severity and care options. If your child is having difficulty breathing, you should call 911 immediately.