This typically late fall/wintertime respiratory virus can sometimes cause critical wheezing in our infants and young toddlers. In fact, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age here in the United States. It can also seriously impact those with an underlying health condition, such as cardiac or pulmonary disease as well. With adults, it typically manifests only as a cold, albeit a significant one. A few key things to know about RSV include:

How is RSV spread?

It is spread via a respiratory route and contact — sneezing, mucus, touching contaminated persons or surfaces.

How do I know if my child has RSV?

Initially a child of any age with RSV has cold-like symptoms with abundant nasal mucus. Fever is typical in younger children. While older children and adults usually stop there, younger babies may then progress to a chesty cough which may include you hearing some whistling on inspiration and expiration (wheeze). On occasion, a child with severe RSV can turn blue (cyanotic), breathe very fast, vomit from the force of the cough or just act very ill. Obviously, your child needs to be seen immediately if any of these characteristics occur.

Can RSV be prevented?

Yes, to some extent. Changing our wintertime behavior can prevent spread:

  • If you have a cold, DO NOT visit any newborns, preemies, or toddlers.
  • If you have a cold, do not attend functions where there may be newborns, preemies or toddlers.
  • Wash your hands frequently during the winter — especially if those around you have colds! RSV can exist on hands for 30 minutes, and on surfaces for up to two hours. So if you work, go to school, or casually stroll in a market and touch a cart, you can get RSV.
  • Don't share beverages, food, or kisses with those who have colds or if you have a cold yourself.
  • Premature infants or those infants with an underlying medical condition may be eligible for a monthly monoclonal antibody (synagis) to help prevent them from acquiring RSV. Please discuss this with one of us if your child is eligible. Unfortunately, there is strict criteria for its use.

Is there treatment for RSV?

Treatment is supportive in general — lots of fluids, moist humidified air and bulb suctioning. If a child is droopy or achy from fever, fever medication may be warranted. Cold medications serve no purpose and should be avoided. Wheezing children may be helped with inhaled medication (Xopenox/Albuterol), but only if it is recommended by your healthcare providers.