What parents need to know about RSV

November 21, 2022 

RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus, is a very well-studied virus that can cause common cold-like symptoms in older children and adults and severe, debilitating airway inflammation in younger infants. 

RSV infects the lungs and breathing passages. RSV can be spread through droplets when a child coughs or sneezes. It can also live on countertops, doorknobs, hands, and clothing. Although most RSV infections appear as colds, some can be severe enough to require hospitalization. Most kids are infected with RSV at least once by age four. 

At HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital emergency department, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon physician Dr. Michel Adonis noted cases are up this year. 

“We’re seeing children who would normally have had their first case at infancy get the virus at two, three, four or even five years old now because they’ve never had RSV,” Dr. Adonis said. “They don’t have the immunity and are experiencing more severe symptoms.”

RSV can spread very easily, resulting in large outbreaks in certain areas. People can get infected if droplets from a cough or sneeze get in their eyes, noses or mouths. 

Dr. Adonis reminds parents, “RSV can spread through direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child who is currently ill with RSV.”

In toddlers and school-age children, symptoms of RSV typically begin four to six days after being infected and most often include a profuse, clear runny nose along with cough, fever and decreased appetite. Young infants with RSV can similarly have a runny nose, cough, fever and decreased appetite, but they may also have fussiness and decreased activity. RSV in all children generally progresses gradually, but young infants are at the highest risk for symptoms such as a more severe cough, an increased breathing rate and low oxygen levels. Young infants with RSV more often develop ear infections and pneumonia and require hospitalization or ICU admission. Medical providers are on high alert during RSV season, especially with young infants, to observe the sometimes-subtle signs at the beginning of RSV illness in order to best care for these patients.  

If your child does have RSV, here are some steps to follow:

  • Closely monitor infants and younger children, especially those born prematurely or with chronic lung or heart disease who have an increased risk of RSV infections.
  • Make sure your child washes his or her hands. This is especially important after touching infected surfaces or having contact with someone with cold symptoms.
  • At home, make your child with an RSV infection as comfortable as possible. Allow time for recovery and provide plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Call your child’s pediatrician if your child experiences a high fever, thick nasal discharge, a worsening cough, or trouble breathing. 
  • If your child is experiencing trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, signs of severe dehydration, or fever of 100.6 or higher for infants younger than 8 weeks, seek emergency care.

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon pediatricians are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at St. Elizabeth’s emergency department and Newborn Nursery to offer high-quality pediatric care. 

Looking for a local pediatrician? Dr. Saba Bajwa at HSHS Medical Group Pediatrics-O’Fallon is accepting new patients. Call 618-206-2088 to make an appointment.

What parents need to know about RSV