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RSV and COVID-19: FAQs on How to Recognize Them and What to Do

​​Children can be exposed to COVID-19 variants in schools, daycare, sports – even just playing with friends in the neighborhood. Of course, they're also exposed to other illnesses, such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which can cause the common cold, pneumonia or bronchiolitis (a condition affecting smaller airways of the lungs).

Both COVID-19 and RSV are serious illnesses that should be of concern to parents. RSV causes many hospitalizations for young children every year. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is sending more children to the hospital than previous COVID variants and is more contagious than chicken pox.

How do you know if your child has RSV or COVID-19?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between RSV and COVID-19, and it would be a mistake for parents to think that just because their child is exhibiting RSV symptoms, that they don't have COVID-19, or vice versa. It is safest to contact your pediatrician at the onset of symptoms in your child.

The important thing for parents is to keep track of the timing and type of symptoms your child exhibits. This will help your pediatrician make an accurate diagnosis and suggestions for treatment and testing.

Early COVID-19 symptoms vary and can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

There may also be congestion or a runny nose, which is similar to RSV.

In contrast, early RSV symptoms tend to be consistent amongst children and include:

  • Runny nose/nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

It is important to note that a child can have both RSV and COVID-19 at the same time, or a child can be sick with one illness and develop the other.

What are the ages of children affected by RSV and COVID-19?

Since many children under the age of 18 are unvaccinated, this puts them at greater risk of getting the COVID-19 Delta variant. Children under the age of 12 cannot get the vaccine at the time of this writing, so they are certainly at risk.

Like COVID-19, RSV can be a serious illness, and it spreads easily in the common places of children, like daycares.

How severe are the symptoms of RSV and COVID-19 in children?

Symptom severity depends on the child's immune system and severity of the illness itself. Some people with COVID-19 never realize they have the virus. Some, however, end up with serious symptoms that can put them in the hospital. Most babies who've tested positive for COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms. Severe illnesses in babies with COVID-19 have been rare so far.

RSV symptoms tend to get worse the longer the illness lasts. You should call your doctor if your young child has a whistling or wheezing noise when they breathe, is breathing fast or has a congested cough. For infants, call your doctor if your baby also refuses to feed.

How can you protect your children against RSV and COVID-19?

Following hygiene recommendations from the CDC is an effective way to reduce the spread of both illnesses. Practice frequent handwashing, wear face coverings indoors and in crowded outdoor settings and, most importantly, vaccinate members of your family who are eligible for the vaccine.

There is no vaccine available for RSV, but there are extremely effective and safe vaccines available for COVID-19. If all eligible members of your household are vaccinated, it will help protect those people ineligible to receive the vaccine from COVID-19.

COVID-19;Health and Safety;Illness and Injury Ear, Nose and Throat;Pediatrics