Information About Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

As parents and caregivers, one of our primary goals is to ensure the health and well-being of our children. A key aspect of this is understanding various illnesses that can affect them, such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. While RSV might not be as well-known as other childhood illnesses, it’s something that nearly all children encounter before their second birthday. Generally, RSV causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but it can be more severe in certain cases. At Frontier Pediatrics, we’re dedicated to empowering families with the knowledge and resources needed to navigate the health challenges their children may face. This article aims to shed light on RSV, detailing what it is, its symptoms, treatment options, and preventive measures. Our team of compassionate and skilled healthcare professionals is here to support your family’s journey toward health and wellness.


What is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that most parents encounter at some point in their child’s early years. Despite its prevalence, many are not fully aware of what RSV is and how it can affect their children.

RSV typically manifests as a mild, cold-like virus. It’s so common that nearly all children will have been infected with RSV by the time they turn two years old. However, its familiarity shouldn’t lead to complacency. In some children, especially infants and those with underlying health conditions, RSV can escalate to a more severe illness.

The virus primarily targets the respiratory system, causing symptoms that range from a runny nose and cough to more serious complications like bronchiolitis and pneumonia. It’s noteworthy that RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year of age.

Transmission of RSV is similar to that of the common cold. It spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also live on surfaces, such as doorknobs and toys, making it easily transferable when a child touches these objects and then their face.

Understanding RSV is crucial because, unlike some other respiratory viruses, its symptoms and impact can vary significantly from one child to another. Some children might experience a simple cold, while others may face more serious respiratory challenges. This variability is why knowledge and vigilance are key in managing RSV in children.


Symptoms of RSV

Identifying the symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is crucial in understanding and effectively managing the illness. While RSV often mimics the common cold, there are specific signs that parents and caregivers should be aware of.

The symptoms of RSV infection typically include:

Runny nose: One of the earliest signs, a runny nose can be a telltale symptom of RSV.

Decrease in appetite: Infants and children may show less interest in feeding or eating.

Coughing and Sneezing: Persistent coughing and sneezing are common and can be a means of the virus spreading.

Fever: While not always present, a fever can accompany RSV, indicating the body’s response to the infection.

Wheezing: This symptom, especially in very young infants, can be a sign of more serious respiratory distress.

It’s important to note that these symptoms usually appear in stages, not all at once. In very young infants, the only signs of RSV might be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties, which require prompt medical attention.

Almost every child will have an RSV infection by their second birthday, but the severity and response can vary greatly. While older children might experience RSV as a mild cold, infants, particularly those under six months, and children with underlying health conditions, can develop more serious symptoms.


Treatment and Care for RSV

When it comes to treating Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), the approach largely depends on the severity of the symptoms. In most cases, RSV infections are mild and can be managed at home, similar to how one would treat a common cold. However, understanding the right care methods is essential for a swift recovery and to prevent any potential complications.

For the majority of children, RSV symptoms will resolve on their own in about a week or two. During this time, the focus is on symptom management and comfort:

Manage fever and pain: Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever and relieve pain. It’s crucial to remember that aspirin should never be given to children.

Stay hydrated: Ensuring that your child drinks enough fluids is vital to prevent dehydration. This is especially important if they have a fever or are less interested in eating.

Rest: Adequate rest is key to recovery. Keeping your child comfortable and allowing them plenty of sleep can help their body fight off the virus.

For parents and caregivers, it’s important to recognize when a child’s symptoms go beyond what can be managed at home. This includes difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing a worsening of symptoms. In these cases, medical attention is necessary.

It’s also worth noting that antiviral medications are not routinely recommended for treating RSV. The virus usually runs its course naturally, and the focus remains on symptom relief.


RSV in Severe Cases

While most cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are mild, there are instances where the virus can lead to more severe complications, especially in certain high-risk groups. Understanding these severe manifestations of RSV is crucial for early intervention and appropriate care.

Severe RSV can particularly affect infants, young children, and older adults. In these cases, the virus can cause more serious respiratory illnesses, such as:

Bronchiolitis: This is an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs and is most common in infants and young children.

Pneumonia: RSV can lead to pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, particularly in children younger than one year.


These conditions are serious and may require medical attention. The signs that indicate a severe RSV infection and necessitate a hospital visit include:

Difficulty breathing: Look for rapid, shallow breathing, flaring nostrils, or a caving in of the chest muscles.

Dehydration: Signs can include fewer wet diapers, lack of tears when crying, and decreased overall activity or responsiveness.

Bluish skin color: Particularly around the lips and fingertips, indicating a lack of oxygen.


In the hospital, treatment for severe RSV may include:

Intravenous (IV) fluids: To ensure hydration and proper electrolyte balance.

Humidified oxygen: To help with breathing if the oxygen levels are low.

Mechanical ventilation: In rare cases, if a child is unable to breathe adequately on their own.

The decision to hospitalize a child is based on several factors, including age, overall health, the severity of symptoms, and the risk of complications. Our team at Frontier Pediatrics is equipped to assess and determine the best course of action in these situations. We understand how stressful severe illnesses can be for families, and we are committed to providing compassionate, comprehensive care in these critical times.


Prevention of RSV

Preventing Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is largely about practicing good hygiene and being aware of the virus’s spread, especially during the RSV season, which typically falls in the colder months.

Here are some preventative measures:

Frequent hand washing: Regular and thorough hand washing can help prevent the spread of RSV.

Avoid close contact: Try to keep infants, particularly those who are premature or have underlying health conditions, away from people with cold-like symptoms.

Clean and disinfect surfaces: Regularly clean surfaces and objects that children frequently touch.

At Frontier Pediatrics, we’re committed to not only treating illnesses like RSV but also to helping you prevent them. By staying informed and taking proactive steps, you can help protect your child from RSV and other respiratory illnesses. If you have any concerns or questions about RSV or your child’s health, our team is here to support and guide you every step of the way.