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  • Writer's pictureAmy Neilson, CCHW

Health Snapshot: RSV in Young Children

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of respiratory illness that can affect all ages but can be serious in young children and older adults. This highly contagious virus infects the lungs and breathing passages and can cause breathing problems. Almost all children get RSV at least once before they are 2 years old.

Most people recover in a week or two. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States.

Because RSV is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. There is no specific treatment for RSV infection, though researchers are working to develop vaccines and antivirals (medicines that fight viruses).

The website has an excellent overview of RSV

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection. Its symptoms may include

  • Fever (temperature of 100.4 or higher)

  • Cough (dry or wet sounding)

  • Congestion

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing

  • Fussiness

  • Sore throat

  • Mild headache

  • Not eating or drinking well

  • A general ill feeling

RSV can cause a cold, but also can be followed by bronchiolitis or pneumonia, with the addition of the following symptoms:

  • Fast breathing

  • Flaring of the nostrils

  • Head bobbing with breathing

  • Rhythmic grunting during breathing

  • Belly breathing, tugging between the ribs and/or the lower neck

  • Wheezing

Call your pediatrician right away if your child has any:

  • Symptoms of bronchiolitis (listed above)

  • Symptoms of dehydration (fewer than 1 wet diaper every 8 hours)

  • Pauses or difficulty breathing

  • Gray or blue color to tongue, lips or skin

  • Significantly decreased activity and alertness

Less than 3% of children with RSV will need a hospital stay. At the hospital, children will be monitored, and given additional oxygen and IV fluids.

According to to help your child feel more comfortable, begin by doing what you would for any bad cold:

  • Nasal saline with gentle suctioning to allow easier breathing and feeding.

  • Cool-mist humidifier to help break up mucus and allow easier breathing.

  • Fluids and frequent feedings. Make sure your child is staying hydrated. Infants with a common cold may feed more slowly or not feel like eating, because they are having trouble breathing. Try to section the baby's nose before attempting to breastfeed or bottle-feed. Supplementation with water or formula is unnecessary for breastfed babies. If difficult for the baby to feed at the breast, expressing breastmilk into a cup or bottle may be an option.

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if older than 6 months) to help with low-grade fevers. Always avoid aspirin and cough and cold medications.

To prevent RSV:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.

  • Wash your hands often.

  • Cover your coughs & sneezes.

  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.


Learn More:

RSV: When it's more than a cold - from the American Academy of Pediatrics


If you'd like to talk about the information in the above post, or would like some guidance in making positive healthy lifestyle changes or assistance with other basic needs (ie finances, food, utilities) please reach out. I am here to listen and can make referrals where needed. All conversations are confidential.

Amy Neilson, Certified Community Health Worker

Chariho Youth Task Force

(401) 212-2741

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