Respiratory Syncytial Virus, commonly known as RSV, is a seasonal respiratory illness. While it usually causes mild illness, it can sometimes be serious and lead to emergency room visits and hospitalization. As a parent or parent-to-be, it helps to know what to look for, how to prevent it, and who is most likely to get sick.
The basics of RSV
RSV is most common during October to April, which coincides with flu season. This can make it tough to tell which illness your child has, and your pediatric provider can order a nasal swab to test for both. Commonly, kids will have:
- Runny nose
- Decreased appetite
- Fast breathing
- Tiredness or fatigue
The biggest worry with RSV is that it can make it hard for people to breathe. This video shows what to look for when it comes to RSV and breathing. If you notice any of these symptoms – even one – call your pediatric provider or seek emergent care. Babies under age one, children born prematurely, and any child with a high-risk condition are at greatest risk for complications. Older people are also at higher risk of hospitalization and complications from RSV. Encourage the grandparents and other older adults in your life to get vaccinated to protect the whole family.
If your child has been diagnosed with RSV, or it’s strongly suspected, try not to panic. Most children recover really well and only need rest, hydration and maybe medication for fever. Keep a close eye out for severe symptoms and breathing difficulties, and alert your pediatric provider if your child is high-risk or having trouble eating or drinking.
For young children and babies, it can be hard to eat and drink while sick with RSV. Signs of dehydration can be found here, but try to offer lots of fluids or water-rich foods, like fruit or popsicles, often throughout the day. Babies under age one don’t need additional water, just their breastmilk and/or formula. Breastfed babies may want to breastfeed all day or find it tough to stay latched – both are common experiences. On the other end, it can be helpful to track wet diapers again in the Ovia Parenting app – even if it’s been a while!
Because RSV spreads so easily, your child should not go back to daycare or preschool until their symptoms have resolved. Your family may also want to consider limiting contact with other high-risk family members, like grandparents.
Preventing RSV is very similar to preventing other respiratory illnesses like the flu or Covid-19. Hand washing, masking and avoiding large indoor groups during RSV season can all help. There isn’t yet an approved vaccine for children (only for elderly people). Still, preventative treatment is approved for babies entering their first RSV season or high-risk children entering their second RSV season. It’s a big step forward in protecting those most vulnerable to severe RSV infection and hospitalization. If you have a baby under two, check to see if they’re eligible for enhanced prevention here or talk to your pediatric provider.
The vaccine approved for people over 60 is also available at the end of pregnancy to pass on valuable antibodies to your newborn baby. This is something really important to explore with your OB provider!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Signs & Symptoms of RSV in Babies. American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP. Oct 26, 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2qh31Wndls
- Signs of Dehydration in Infants & Children, HealthyChildren.org. Healthy Children. Last Updated 9/24/2019 https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/dehydration.aspx
- RSV in Infants and Young Children, CDC, Center for Disease Control, Last Reviewed: August 4, 2023 https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/high-risk/infants-young-children.html
- RSV Prevention.How to Protect Yourself and Others. CDC, Center for Disease Control, Last Reviewed: August 4, 2023 https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/prevention.html