Learn About RSV

Cold and flu season is here. An unseasonably early arrival of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is causing increased numbers of patients seeking care. For most people, RSV is like a cold but for the the elderly, children, and some others it can be a serious illness. MCMC pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Morrison, notes “we are seeing an increase in cases of RSV over the last 2 weeks in our community. Help protect yourself and your children by washing hands frequently, wearing a mask when out, avoiding contact with sick people, and staying home when you are not feeling well. If you have any concern about your child’s work of breathing, persisting fevers or dehydration, please call your pediatrician or seek care right away.”

What is RSV?

RSV is a virus that causes a miserable cold with thick mucus and a cough that can easily last a month. You can get the infection at any age and more than once in your lifetime. It tends to be particularly tough on babies and toddlers the first time they have the virus.

For the majority of children with RSV, symptoms can be successfully managed at home. Here are some things you can do to manage illness at home, and when they would need to see a doctor.

How to tell if my child has RSV

Signs of RSV typically peak on days three, four and five of illness. They may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

How to treat RSV at home

Like all colds, there is no medication to kill RSV. However, there are many ways to ease your child’s discomfort at home, including:

Clear up congestion. For the little ones who can’t (or won’t) blow their noses, put a drop or two of nasal saline in each nostril and use a suction device like a bulb syringe to pull out the discharge. Keeping their nose clear will make it easier for them to take fluids and avoid dehydration.

Pick up steam. Run a cool mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom and give steamy baths. The water vapor loosens congestion.

Relieve pain. Give acetaminophen (if over 2 months of age) or ibuprofen (over 6 months of age) as needed for fever or discomfort.

Stay hydrated. For infants, breast milk or formula are the best forms of hydration because of their nutrition. For older children, mix it up. Make sure there is salt and sugar in their fluids if they are not eating. Apple juice, water, popsicles, milk and soup are great sources of hydration when ill.

When to seek care

If you are uncertain whether or not your child needs medical care, please call your provider’s office. Doernbecher Children’s Hospital has a MD4Kids symptom checker app that may be useful.  Children who are working hard to breathe, have bluish lips or are difficult to rouse, are dehydrated or have had a fever for more than three days, should be seen in the emergency room. Here are other things to look out for:

Breathing trouble

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath, or nostrils flaring
  • Unable to breathe and drink at the same time
  • Lethargy, hard to wake up
  • Grunting at the end of each breath
  • Bluish lips or face


Most kids urinate every three to six hours or so. If you are struggling to keep them hydrated and there is a change in their baseline urine output, they need medical attention. Other signs of dehydration include a dry mouth, lethargy and lack of tears when crying.


Like all cold viruses a child with RSV might develop bacterial infections such as ear infections, pneumonia, or sinus infections. Pay attention to complaints of ear pain, chest pain or sinus pain.

For more information

You can read more about RSV at this CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/index.html.