Respiratory syncytial (pronounced “sin-SISH-ul”) virus, or RSV, is a potentially serious health concern for parents with young infants. If your child has RSV, they’ll most often experience mild cold symptoms like a stuffy nose or coughing.
However, children with vulnerable immune systems and babies with RSV can develop serious complications like a lung infection and difficulty breathing. It’s important to protect your little ones from the virus because it can be dangerous and spread quickly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2.1 million children under 5 years old receive outpatient care for this infection each year.
RSV is a fast-spreading, contagious virus that affects organs of the respiratory system in babies and infants. Most children under 2 years old get this virus at least once, often experiencing symptoms in the nose and lungs.
Cold symptoms aren’t a major concern for younger children with RSV. Nonetheless, the virus can potentially cause severe complications like pneumonia or bronchiolitis (swelling of the lung’s small airways).
While children can get RSV at any time of the year, infection rates increase over the fall and winter. RSV spreads in two main ways:
RSV symptoms can vary by factors like age and vulnerability, and usually clear up in one to two weeks.
Children between 1 and 3 years old or toddlers with RSV often experience cold-like effects. Common symptoms of RSV in this age group include:
Some infants and toddlers are more vulnerable to RSV due to factors such as premature birth, weakened immune systems, and heart problems. They may develop life-threatening RSV symptoms such as:
RSV can infect adults and children older than 5 years, too, but it often causes minimal signs and symptoms. Symptoms in children and adults include:
Most children start experiencing symptoms 2-8 days after exposure to RSV. Those with an RSV infection like bronchiolitis often recover in about a week. However, some symptoms, such as coughing, may last longer.
Contagious infections like RSV are preventable, primarily by practicing good and minimizing exposure. Here are some tips to protect yourself and your children from RSV:
Currently, the respiratory syncytial virus has no preventive vaccine. Nonetheless, to avoid developing severe RSV infections, vulnerable babies are usually given a drug called palivizumab once a month throughout the high-risk season. Consider asking your doctor if your baby is a candidate.
Adults also can get infected with the respiratory syncytial virus. Since they generally have a stronger immune system, their RSV symptoms are usually mild and similar to common colds. RSV symptoms in most adults go away quickly with self-care.
To avoid infecting other people, consider staying home for as long as practical once you have RSV. According to the CDC, RSV-infected individuals can remain contagious for up to 8 days. However, if you have a weakened immune system, your ability to infect other people may linger for up to four weeks even if you don’t experience any visible symptoms.
Like all viruses, respiratory syncytial virus does not respond to antibiotics that treat bacterial infections. If your child has bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics may be included in their treatment plan.
Younger children are more vulnerable to RSV than older children and adults. Fortunately, there are preventive and treatment options available all year round. If your baby has symptoms of an RSV infection, such as a cold and coughing, walk into any of our urgent care clinics in Irvine Woodbridge Walk-in Urgent Caree, Fountain Valley Urgent Care, or Costa Mesa Urgent Care, CA, for immediate care. Our board-certified providers will provide your child with proper diagnosis and treatment, with the option of a flu shot if needed.