RSV: When It's More Than Just A Cold

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What is RSV?

  • RSV looks and sounds like a cold, but RSV or respiratory syncytial virus can become something more. What’s the difference? What should you do about it as parents? And when should you take your child to the pediatrician/Dr?
  • Kids at Risk for RSV: being born prematurely (or preterm) or a child who has a condition affecting their lungs, heart, or immune system
  • RSV is highly contagious and a typical season is roughly November-April. It can be spread directly from person to person, or indirectly when someone touches any object infected with the virus, such as toys, countertops, doorknobs, or pens/pencils. Kids under two are especially ill as a result of this virus. 

What to do?

  • Prevent the Spread: teach and spread good hand washing
  • Keep children at risk from child care centers during peak RSV season if you have a child at risk
  • Kids can shed virus for about a week. Also steer clear of tobacco smoke: Parents who smoke are more apt to acquire viral respiratory infections and pass them onto their children.

Diagnosis and Treatment:

  • Because RSV is a virus rather than a bacterial infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics, and there is no vaccine available yet but is being worked on
  • Diagnosed by taking a swab of the nasal fluids in the Dr’s office
  • There is a shot to prevent RSV for the very high risk infants, however it is very expensive and requires strict criteria be met before insurance will pay for it
  • Give plenty of fluids
  • Use cool-mist vaporizer during winter months to keep air moist. Blow little noses frequently (or use a nasal aspirator for infants)
  • Give non-aspirin pain reliever, such as acetaminophen. Aspirin should be avoided as it is linked to Reye syndrome.

When to call the Doctor:

  • Difficulty breathing or fast breathing pattern
  • Excessive wheezing
  • Gray or blue skin color
  • High fever
  • Thick nasal discharge that is yellow, green or gray
  • Extreme tiredness (especially during times of typical activity)