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Learning About RSV Infection in Children

Child's respiratory system and lungs

What is RSV?

RSV is short for respiratory syncytial virus infection. It causes the same symptoms as a bad cold. And like a cold, it is very common and spreads easily. Most children have had it at least once by age 2.

There are many kinds of RSV, so your child's body never becomes immune to it. Your child can get it again and again throughout his or her life, sometimes during the same season.

What happens when your child has RSV?

RSV attacks your child's nose, eyes, throat, and lungs. It spreads when your child coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks.

RSV can make it hard for a child to breathe. It is important to watch the symptoms, especially in babies.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of RSV include:

  • A cough.
  • A stuffy or runny nose.
  • A mild sore throat.
  • An earache.
  • A fever.

Babies with RSV may also have no energy, act fussy or cranky, and be less hungry than usual. Some children have more serious symptoms, like wheezing or trouble breathing. Call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is wheezing or having trouble breathing.

How can you prevent RSV infection?

It is very hard to keep from catching RSV, just like it is hard to keep from catching a cold. But you can lower the chances by practicing good health habits. Wash your hands often, and teach your child to do the same. See that your child gets all the vaccines your doctor recommends.

How is RSV treated?

Home treatment is usually all that is needed:

  • Raise the head of your child's bed or crib.
  • Suction your baby's nose if your baby can't breathe well enough to eat or sleep.
  • Control fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Give your child lots of fluids. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Gastrolyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Give these drinks as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea. Do not use them as the only source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours.

When a child with RSV is otherwise healthy, symptoms usually get better in a week or two.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.