Baby Your Baby - All About RSV

By Jonathan Burnett MD

If you have a newborn or a young child, you may have heard a lot about RSV. In this article, we answer some common questions you may have about this illness.

preventing RSV in young children

What is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, commonly known as RSV, is a virus that – most of the time – causes only minor cold-like symptoms. But according to the Center for Disease Control, it is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the United States. Each year, 75,000 to 125,000 children in this age group are hospitalized due to RSV infection.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Symptoms of RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections like the common cold. A person with an RSV infection might cough, sneeze, and have a runny nose, fever, and a decrease in appetite. Wheezing may also occur. In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection. Most otherwise healthy infants infected with RSV do not need to be hospitalized. However, the more severe cases may lead to an infant needing supplemental oxygen or even have a breathing tube placed.

Who is at risk for severe illness?

Among children, premature infants, children less than 2 years of age with congenital heart or chronic lung disease, and children with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for severe disease. Risks of complications from the disease also exist within this demographic.

When is the risk for infection the greatest?

RSV infections generally occur from November to April. However, the timing of the season may differ among locations and from year to year.

How is RSV spread?

RSV can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. Coughing and sneezing sends droplets of water into the air that carry the virus. Other people can become infected if they inhale these droplets or these droplets come in contact with their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Infection can also result from contact with the nasal drainage or oral secretions from infected persons. This can either be direct contact, such as kissing the face of a child with RSV, or indirect contact, such as the virus getting on a toy of an infected child that is then touched by other people.

What are some things that I can do to prevent my baby from getting an RSV infection?

  • Make sure everyone washes their hands before touching your baby, with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Keep your baby away from anyone who has a cold, fever, or runny nose.
  • Keep your baby away from crowded areas like shopping malls, busy restaurants, or anywhere where there are a lot of people in a relatively small area.
  • Keep your baby away from tobacco smoke. Parents should not expose their infants and young children to secondhand tobacco smoke because this increases the risk of complications from severe viral respiratory infections.
  • Clean/disinfect contaminated surfaces such as toys, doorknobs, etc.
  • For those at a high risk of contracting RSV, there is a vaccine which can help prevent severe RSV illness. While the drug can help prevent development of serious RSV disease, it cannot help cure or treat children already suffering from serious RSV disease and it cannot prevent infection with RSV. If your child is at high risk for severe RSV disease, talk to your healthcare provider to see if it can be used as a preventive measure.

For more information on RSV, visit:

To see if the RSV pathogen is currently active in your area, visit GermWatch.