​The Children's Hospital ​News

Respiratory syncytial virus

(RSV) Quick Facts:

  • Can affect persons of any age
  • Spread by inhaling droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough or through contact with contaminated surfaces
  • Symptoms may be mild to severe; a severe infection can pose a serious health threat
  • Most common cause of pneumonia in babies
  • Most common cause of inflammation of the small airways in the lungs
  • More common in winter and early spring
  • Often occurs in annual outbreaks in communities, classrooms and/or childcare centers
  • Most babies will have at least one occurrence by the age of 2
  • Reinfection is common and may occur throughout life


  • Begin two to five days after contact with the virus. Early phase RSV symptoms are often mild and cold-like. In children younger than 3, RSV may move into lungs. Coughing, sneezing and wheezing may occur. Difficulty breathing may become severe, requiring hospitalization. Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Apnea (brief interruptions in breathing)
  • Difficulty in swallowing, which impairs eating and drinking
  • Wheezing
  • Breathing difficulty – flaring of nostrils or straining of chest or stomach; breaths taken faster than normal
  • Skin or lips appear blueish in color

Most at risk

  • Babies born prematurely
  • Babies with any heart, lung or immune system conditions are at risk for more severe impact from the virus

    When to seek emergency medical help

    A pediatrician is an excellent resource to determine steps for care. If at any point you believe an emergency exists, go to the closest emergency department or call 911.

  • Child’s skin or lips have turned blue
  • Child is having trouble breathing
  • Child is unresponsive
  • Sudden change in mental status – becomes unusually sleepy, difficult to wake, is disoriented or seems confused

Prevention is basic; it begins with clean hands

  • Teach children to wash hands often.
    • Before eating or handling food
    • After using the bathroom
    • After playing with animals
    • After coughing or sneezing
  • Carry an alcohol-based hand gel containing at least 60% alcohol, if soap and water are unavailable
  • Remind children not to touch eyes, nose and mouth
  • Ensure children receive recommended vaccinations as appropriate for age
  • Prevent dehydration - make sure child is drinking enough fluids (preferably water or electrolyte solutions)
  • Make sure children get plenty of rest and eat nutritious foods