What is rsv infection?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in children: Overview

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a viral illness that causes symptoms like those of a bad cold. It is most common in babies. RSV spreads easily. It goes away on its own and usually does not cause major health problems. However, it can lead to other problems, such as bronchiolitis.

There are medicines available for babies and young children that can help prevent infection. You can talk with your child's doctor about getting those medicines.

Children with this illness may wheeze and make a lot of mucus. Lots of rest and plenty of fluids can help your child get well. Most children feel better in one to two weeks.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

Respiratory syncytial virus infection (RSV) is a common childhood infection that anyone can get. It can cause a runny nose, coughing, and wheezing. Most people get over RSV with home care.

There are medicines for babies and young children that can help prevent infection. And adults age 60 and over can get a vaccine to prevent infection. Getting an RSV vaccine during pregnancy can help prevent your infant from getting the infection.

In some people, especially young children, RSV may lead to pneumonia or another breathing problem called bronchiolitis. When this happens, oxygen and hospital care may be needed.

It may take older adults longer to recover from RSV and any problems caused by it than people in other age groups.

What happens when a person gets respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) spreads easily and is very hard to avoid.

Children who have only upper respiratory system symptoms, such as a sore throat or a runny nose, usually recover in about 10 to 14 days. A child's first RSV infection, which almost always occurs by age 2, usually is the most severe. Some babies and children have a higher risk of other problems caused by RSV because of a health condition or another problem. There are medicines available for babies and young children that can help prevent infection. You can talk with your child's doctor about getting those medicines. In young children, the most common problems caused by RSV are bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Adults older than 65 have a higher risk of problems caused by RSV. It may take older adults longer to recover from RSV and any problems caused by it. Adults age 60 and over can get a vaccine to prevent infection. The risk of problems from getting RSV is even higher if there are other health problems, such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart failure.

It's also important to get an RSV vaccine during pregnancy, which can then help prevent your infant from getting the infection.

What are the symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection?

RSV usually causes the same symptoms as a bad cold, such as:

  • A cough.
  • A stuffy or runny nose.
  • A mild sore throat.
  • An earache.
  • A fever, usually at the start of the illness. A high fever doesn't mean the illness is more severe.

Babies with RSV may also:

  • Have a decreased interest in their surroundings.
  • Have low energy. They may be listless and sleepy.
  • Act fussy or cranky.
  • Not sleep well.
  • Be less hungry than usual.
  • Have apnea, where breathing stops for about 15 to 20 seconds. This usually occurs only in babies who were born prematurely and who also have a history of apnea.

Some children have other serious symptoms, like wheezing. Call your doctor if your child is wheezing or having trouble breathing.

RSV infection sometimes leads to bronchiolitis, pneumonia, or both.

How is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection treated?

RSV usually goes away on its own. Home treatment is often all that's needed. When someone with RSV is otherwise healthy, symptoms usually get better in a week or two.

If your child has RSV:

  • Place an extra pillow under the upper half of your child's body if they are older than 12 months. This makes it easier to breathe and sleep.
  • Suction your baby's nose if they can't breathe well enough to eat or sleep.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Never give aspirin to someone younger than 20 years. It can cause Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

RSV can be serious when the symptoms are very bad or when it leads to other problems. Certain people, like babies and people with immune system problems, are more likely to have problems with RSV. These people sometimes need treatment in a hospital.

How can you prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection?

It's very hard to keep from catching RSV, just like it's hard to keep from catching a cold. But you can lower the chances by practicing good health habits. Wash your hands often, and teach children to do the same.

There are medicines for babies and young children that can help prevent infection. And adults age 60 and over can get a vaccine to prevent infection. Getting an RSV vaccine during pregnancy can help prevent your infant from getting the infection.

How is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose RSV by asking about your or your child's symptoms and by knowing if there's an outbreak of the infection in your area.

There are tests for RSV, but they usually aren't needed. Your doctor may want to do testing if you or your child may be likely to have other problems. A viral detection test may be done to confirm a diagnosis of RSV in children and adults older than 65 who have symptoms and who are at high risk for a severe infection or for complications.

The test uses a sample of the drainage from the nose, obtained with a cotton swab or nasal wash. Testing may also be recommended for people who are in the hospital if the cause of symptoms hasn't already been found and they have a high risk of having complications.

The results of viral detection tests help doctors know if precautions are needed to prevent the spread of infection. For children who are at risk for getting severe infections or complications of RSV infections, the results of these tests may help guide treatment, such as the need for medicines.

Certain tests may be needed if RSV symptoms don't improve or if they get worse. Or they may be needed if complications such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia are suspected. These tests may include:

  • A chest X-ray. This test may show signs of pneumonia.
  • Blood tests. These may include a chemistry screening, a complete blood count, or arterial blood gases analysis.
  • Oximetry. This test measures the amount of oxygen in the blood.

How can medicines help your child's respiratory syncytial viral (RSV) infection?

Most RSV infections don't require prescription medicines. But medicines may be recommended for infants and children at high risk for problems from RSV. They can help:

  • Prevent an RSV infection.
  • Make RSV less severe.
  • Treat an RSV infection and its complications.
  • Make breathing easier.

How can you care for your child who has respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection?

  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicine exactly as prescribed. Do not stop or change a medicine without talking to your child's doctor first.
  • Give your child lots of fluids. Offer your baby breastfeeding or bottle-feeding more often. Do not give your baby sports drinks, soft drinks, or undiluted fruit juice, as these may have too much sugar, too few calories, or not enough minerals.
  • Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. These drinks contain the right mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Do not use them as the only source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours.
  • If your child has problems breathing because of a stuffy nose, squirt a few saline (saltwater) nasal drops in one nostril. For older children, have them blow their nose. Repeat for the other nostril. If your child is over 12 months of age, you can place an extra pillow under the upper half of your child's body. For babies, put a drop or two in one nostril. Using a soft rubber suction bulb, squeeze air out of the bulb, and gently place the tip of the bulb inside the baby's nose. Relax your hand to suck the mucus from the nose. Repeat in the other nostril.
  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever, pain, or fussiness. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.
  • Be careful when giving your child over-the-counter cold or flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not giving your child more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Smoke irritates the breathing tubes and slows healing.
  • Let your child rest. Unless you see signs of dehydration, don't wake up your child during naps or at night to take fluids.

What increases the risk of getting respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection?

Babies and young children who are in day care centers or frequently in public places are most likely to become infected with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), especially during the peak season. Older brothers and sisters in school often become infected with the virus and spread it to other household members, including babies and preschoolers.

Sharing food, touching objects that are contaminated with the virus, and not washing hands can lead to RSV infection.

Older adults living in nursing homes or other group environments also have a higher risk of becoming infected with RSV.

How does respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection spread?

RSV is very contagious. It spreads when you cough, sneeze, or share food or drinks. You can catch the virus by touching an object or surface contaminated with the virus and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth. You could also get infected if a person who has RSV coughs or sneezes near you.

What is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in children?

RSV is short for respiratory syncytial virus infection. It causes the same symptoms as a bad cold. And like a cold, it is very common and spreads easily. Most children have had it at least once by age 2.

There are many kinds of RSV, so your child's body never becomes immune to it. Your child can get it again and again, sometimes during the same season.

What causes respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection?

A virus causes RSV infection. Like a cold virus, RSV attacks your nose, eyes, throat, and lungs. There are two main types of RSV and many subtypes (strains), so your body never becomes immune to it. You can get it again and again throughout your life. Sometimes during the same season.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Signs may include the chest sinking in, using belly muscles to breathe, or nostrils flaring while your child is struggling to breathe.
  • Your child is groggy, confused, or much more sleepy than usual.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's fever gets worse.
  • Your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever.
  • Your child gets tired during feeding because of trying to breathe. The child either stops eating or sucks in air to catch a breath. The child loses interest in eating because of the effort it takes.
  • Your child has signs of needing more fluids. These signs include sunken eyes with few tears, dry mouth with little or no spit, and little or no urine for 6 hours.
  • Your child starts breathing faster than usual.
  • Your child uses the muscles in their neck, chest, and stomach when taking in air.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's symptoms get worse, or your child has any new symptoms.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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