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RSV: What to Know to Keep Your Child Healthy

RSV: What to Know to Keep Your Child Healthy

Hospitals across the U.S. are seeing a surge of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) among infants and young children.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. Symptoms typically last a week or two and clear up with rest and fluids. However, RSV can sometimes be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

To learn more about when to see a doctor and the symptoms to look for in children, we talked to pediatrician Kristen Cercone, MD, of Winchester Pediatric Clinic.

When should parents be concerned about RSV and seek medical care?

Some children are more at risk for developing lower respiratory tract infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia from RSV infection. This includes infants less than six months of age, and older infants/toddlers with underlying health conditions like prematurity and asthma.

Very young infants can be at risk for apnea, which is a prolonged pause in breathing. Be on the lookout for signs that your child is working harder to breathe, including:

  • retractions (using the muscles in the neck, just below the rib cage, or in between the ribs to breathe)

  • flaring of the nostrils

  • rapid breathing

If your child is having trouble drinking fluids because of the congestion or the way that they are breathing, it is important to have them evaluated as they can be at risk of dehydration. Some children who develop these symptoms may need to be hospitalized while they are recovering from RSV infection, so it is important to have them evaluated by a provider who has experience in pediatrics. Depending on time of day and severity of symptoms, this may be at your primary pediatrician’s office, Urgent Care, or in an emergency department.

Please note: For patients with non-emergent health conditions, consider a visit to your primary care physician. Valley Health Urgent Cares also treat non-emergent conditions and are typically less expensive and quicker than a visit to a hospital emergency department. For many patients with insurance, the cost of an Urgent Care visit is the same as a physician office visit.

What are the best ways to treat RSV in infants/children?

There is no medication that can cure or shorten RSV infection in children, but there are some ways that we can help support them during the illness and reduce their symptoms.

At-home care includes measures to help them clear out the congestion. These include:

  • nasal saline sprays/mists

  • gentle suctioning with a nasal aspirator

  • warm baths/steamy showers

  • running a humidifier in their room

For children who require hospitalization during their RSV infection, providers support their breathing with high-flow oxygen and provide IV hydration or other types of feeding support while they recover. Occasionally, children will need additional care in the setting of a pediatric ICU.

What are ways that parents can keep their children healthy from RSV?

RSV is spread from person to person, often by direct contact. Handwashing is important, and mask-wearing likely provides extra benefit. Children are contagious even during the first couple days of the illness when the symptoms are mild, so it is important to keep any child that is starting to show symptoms at home when they are not feeling well.