RSV on the Rise: What Parents Need to Know - Nemours Blog

INFECTIOUS DISEASES

RSV on the Rise: What Parents Need to Know

RSV on the Rise: What Parents Need to Know

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge, doctors are warning about another well-known respiratory illness, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), spreading among infants and young children.

There has been an unusual summertime uptick in RSV cases. And it’s happening at the same time as the Delta variant of coronavirus is infecting young children and teens. Cases of RSV in kids and older adults usually occur in fall through early spring. But due to a reduced spread of RSV during the winter months of 2020-2021 — because of quarantine and masking guidelines — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that many cases are now surfacing earlier this year.

Most children get an RSV infection by the age of two. As some areas lift mask mandates and other restrictions, there is a reappearance of the virus occurring. That means older infants and young children who would have gotten it last year didn’t and are now at risk.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of RSV, and its potential risks for some infants and young children.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of respiratory illness in young children. The virus infects the lungs and breathing passages.

Symptoms

Those who are infected with RSV will typically show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected. Symptoms include:

  • runny nose and sneezing
  • cough
  • fever
  • wheezing and trouble breathing
  • decrease in appetite

Concern for Infants and Young Children

For children younger than one year, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Younger infants may show fussiness, less activity, and a cough early on, so it is important to keep a close eye on your baby for any sudden changes in breathing. If any changes occur, you should call your primary care provider right away.

How to Care for RSV

Most cases of RSV will go away on their own within one to two weeks. The best way to care for your child with RSV is to relieve symptoms at home. You can help your child feel more comfortable by:

  • giving liquids
  • giving acetaminophen for fever and fussiness as directed by your doctor
  • using a cool mist humidifier
  • suctioning the nose as directed

When Should I Call the Doctor?

You should call your doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • a fever
  • coughing  
  • wheezing
  • dehydration – signs include dry mouth, and fewer wet diapers than usual
  • crankiness or refusing to breastfeed, bottle-feed or drink liquids

Get medical help right away if your child:

  • has trouble breathing or has very fast breathing
  • is very drowsy
  • has lips or fingernails that look blue

How to Prevent RSV

RSV can be spread easily when a person has close contact with someone who has the infection, touches a surface that has the virus on it, or comes in contact with droplets from a cough or sneeze. According to the CDC, here are the best ways to prevent the spread of RSV:

  • wash your hands often
  • avoid touching your face
  • cover your coughs and sneezes
  • clean and disinfect surfaces
  • avoid contact with sick people
  • stay home if possible
Kate Cronan, MD

Dr. Cronan is a pediatric emergency attending physician at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Del., and a medical editor at Nemours Children’s Health Media.