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RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) in Children

​Unfortunately, the truth is that every child in the world by 2 years of age is going to have had Respiratory ​Syncytial Virus (RSV) at some point in their lives. RSV is a very common respiratory infection that generally affects younger kids. It is most prominent in January, February and March, but can be seen as early as November and go until late April. It spreads like wildfire through day cares and anyw​here kids congregate.

Symptoms of RSV

Typical symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Slight cough
  • Low fevers
  • Mild sore throat

The typical symptoms of RSV are like normal cold symptoms. The first several days will consist of a clear runny nose and a little bit of a cough. There might be a harshness to the cough, but nothing to worry about too much. Low grade fevers are also possible. These symptoms tend to last 10 to 14 days.

Severe symptoms:

  • Bronchiolitis
  • High fever
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing

These severe symptoms are more likely to affect infants and small children. About three to four days into the illness, it will drop down to the lower airways on your child’s chest. At that point it becomes bronchiolitis, or infection of the bronchioles. Usually there is a slight fever, but it can become a harsh fever. Breathing is often short and shallow.

Treatments for RSV

Antibiotics will not cure or lessen the effects of RSV, so supportive care is the main treatment. Once a child has contracted the virus, it is going to run its course for a couple of weeks. It is recommended that parents continue suctioning their child’s nose, provide fluids and nurture the sick child until better.

If you believe your child has developed a secondary condition, such as pneumonia or an ear infection, talk to your pediatrician about treatment for any additional infections.

Is there a vaccine for RSV?

There is a vaccine available called Synagis, however it is for select groups: children born prematurely, very small infants and kids with heart disease or premature lung disease. These children are at risk to have a bad outcome or a very complicated case. For the rest of the population, Synagis is not a viable option.

Prevention of RSV

The best way to prevent RSV is good hygiene and hand washing. RSV can live on surfaces for a long time, so keeping surfaces clean and washing hands regularly are the best ways to prevent the disease.

RSV is not usually a life-threatening disease. However, seek medical attention if your child has severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or a high fever.

  • RSV

    Charles J. Sprague, M.D.
    Boys Town Pediatrics

    Virtually, every child in the world by two years of age is going to have had RSV. It's a very, very, common respiratory infection. It can hit all ages, but for the most part it affects our younger kids the most. Very seasonal, it hits us very, very hard in the winter. We can start seeing it as early as November through probably as late as April. But the bulk of it is going to be in the deep winter: January, February, March. It's going to spread like wild fire through day cares, but anywhere were there are kids congregating it's going to spread, it's going to be there. It comes through every winter. You can count on it.

    What are the symptoms of RSV?

    RSV early is going to present like any normal cold. So your first several days of RSV it is going to look like simple clear runny nose, little bit of cough, maybe a little harsh quality to the cough, but nothing more significant than that initially. Maybe, perhaps, some low grade fevers. In most kids, it won't progress any more than that. And you will run into 10 to 14 days with those types of symptoms. But for a significant number of kids, about 3 to 4 days into the illness it will drop down to the lower airways of your chest. And at that point it becomes what we call, bronchiolitis, or infection of your bronchioles. And that is where the big complications really come from.

    What is the treatment for RSV?

    Treatment is frustrating for most families in that it's what we call supportive care. There really is no definitive therapy to correct the RSV, or to cure you of the RSV. Once you have it, it is going to run its course for a couple of weeks. And unless it has complications the viruses do not respond to antibiotics. You just keep the nose suctioned out as aggressively as you can, you provide fluids, and you nurture them through it.

    Is there a vaccine for RSV?

    There is a vaccine available. It's called Synagis, but it is for select groups. The kids we know are going to have problems are kids that are born pre-maturely, the very, very small infants, kids with pre-mature lung disease, and kids with heart disease. They are the ones that are at risk to have a bad outcome, or a very complicated case. Those kids can be protected with this vaccine. For the rest of the population it is not really a viable option.

    How can RSV be prevented?

    People get tired of hearing it, but first and foremost hand washing, good hygiene, good hand washing. RSV can live for quite a long time on surfaces so it really becomes very vital that you are washing your hands keeping surfaces cleaned up.

Cold and Flu;Illness and Injury Pediatrics