Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in Children

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms that last for a week or two and get better on their own. It is a very common virus for kids; most have had RSV by age 2.

In some children, however, RSV can cause more severe illness. RSV infection is the most common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis (inflammation in the lungs) in children under 1 in the U.S.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Academic medical center expertise: At Rush University Children’s Hospital your child will have access to more than 100 pediatric physicians and specialists, including pediatricianspediatric pulmonologists who specializes in treating breathing problems in children, and pediatric critical care clinicians who specialize in treating children with severe RSV infections.
  • Preventive care treatments: Pediatricians at Rush can provide children who are at a high risk for developing severe RSV with monthly injections of palivizumab, a medication used to prevent serious RSV infections.
  • A kid-friendly inpatient experience: Child Life Services specialists at Rush University Children’s Hospital can help your child — and you — cope with the physical, social and emotional challenges of hospitalization.
  • Advanced care for kids in critical condition: The pediatric intensive and critical care unit (PICU) at Rush provides expert care to children with severe RSV infections or complications.
  • Family-centered care: The heart of Rush University Children’s Hospital is family-centered care, which means you will be involved in every care decision for your child. We believe children’s families are integral members of the care team.

What is RSV in children?

RSV infection may cause serious respiratory symptoms in the following high-risk groups:

Symptoms of RSV in children

Your child may have the following symptoms of RSV:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Reduced appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

Many of these symptoms are similar to those of the common cold. Symptoms may appear in stages, such as over a period of days, instead of all at once.

Young babies may not display these cold-like symptoms, but instead show irritability, decreased activity or difficulty breathing.

How can I get my child help for RSV?

Since RSV is a virus, antibiotics are not effective in treating it. Luckily, your child will likely get better on their own in about a week.

In the meantime, you can give your child over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help control fever and pain. Contact your child’s pediatrician to find out the proper dose.

Contact your pediatrician if your child has any of the following problems:

  • High fever
    • For babies younger than 2 months, a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
    • For babies between 3 to 6 months, a temperature greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
    • For children older than 6 months, a temperature greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Difficulty breathing, or mouth and fingernails look blue (this means that your child may not be getting enough oxygen)
  • Looks dehydrated or is not drinking enough fluids
  • Symptoms worsen or don’t improve within a week or two

Your pediatrician can evaluate how severe the infection is. Some children may need treatment in the hospital.

Care for children with RSV at Rush

RSV testing

Your pediatrician can take a swab of fluid from your child’s nose or throat to determine whether your child has RSV. They typically do this test only for severe symptoms or if your child is in a high-risk category, such as for a young baby or a child with a weakened immune system.

Your pediatrician can also determine whether another infection is present, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

RSV treatment

Rest: In most cases, your child can rest at home until they feel better. If symptoms worsen, you may need to contact your pediatrician again to determine if your child has developed another infection that needs treatment.

Alleviate symptoms: You can give your child over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (in children 6 months of age or older), to help control fever and pain. Your pediatrician may also recommend ways for you to ease your child’s stuffy nose, such as by using a nasal bulb or saline nasal drops. And make sure that your child drinks enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

Hospitalization: Some children with severe infections may need a short stay in the hospital to receive oxygen or medication to help with breathing, or intravenous fluids to treat dehydration.

RSV medication for high-risk children

Children who are at high risk of developing severe RSV (such as babies born before 29 weeks, and young children with heart or lung problems) can receive medication to prevent a serious infection. The medication does not prevent or cure an RSV infection, but it can lower the risk of severe symptoms that could require hospitalization.

Your pediatrician can give your child an injection of the drug, palivizumab, on a monthly basis during the RSV season, which is during fall, winter and spring.