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RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus): A Guide for Parents

What is RSV?

   RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. It is important to understand that it can be serious. Although most babies who get RSV just get a cold, RSV can cause pneumonia, other lung problems and even death. Each year, up to 125,000 babies must stay in the hospital because of RSV. RSV is very easy to catch as it can live for a few hours on things like kitchen counters, toys, towels, sheets, blankets, and used tissues. If you touch these things when RSV is on them, you can get RSV.

Why should I learn about RSV?

   RSV is very common. Most babies get RSV before they turn 2. It often strikes those who live in crowded households. It is also common in day-care centers. Some babies are at higher risk for severe RSV disease. RSV can be harmful to babies who were born early or with lung problems. Parents should ask their baby's doctor if their baby is at higher risk for severe RSV disease.

You can help protect your baby.   

   - Wash your hands before touching your baby. Ask others to do the same.

   - Keep people who have colds away from your baby. This includes brothers and sisters.

   - Stay away from crowds.

   - Ask your baby's day-care provider not to expose your baby to crowded conditions.

   - Wash your baby's toys and bedding often.

   - Do not smoke around your baby. Do not let others smoke, either.

Know the signs of RSV disease.   

   The signs may seem like a cold. RSV can cause these common problems:

   - sneezing

   -stuffy or runny nose

   -sore throat


   RSV disease can get severe very quickly. Signs of serious problems include:

   - wheezing or coughing

   - trouble breathing

   - fast breathing

   - blue or gray skin color

   - trouble eating, drinking or sleeping

   Call the doctor right away if your baby:

   - has a cold and is less than 6 months old

   - has a cold and is at higher risk of severe RSV disease

   - shows any breathing problems or severe signs

   - seems very sick

   If you are unsure whether to call, it is best to call!

What the doctor will do.

   The doctor will examine your body. He or she may also order some tests. For example, your baby may have a chest X-ray. These tests help show if your baby has RSV.    

   Treatment can help with symptoms. There are ways to help your baby feel better. For example, medicine may help lower his or her fever. Make sure to consult with your baby's doctor before giving any medicine. Most children with RSV can stay at home. But if your baby is very sick, he or she may need to stay in the hospital.

   Recovery may take a week or two. Your baby will probably begin feeling better in a few days. RSV will go away on its own with time.

   RSV can come back. Having had RSV disease does not mean you cannot get it again. If your baby shows signs of severe RSV disease, call your baby's doctor.

Keep RSV from spreading.

   A person can spread RSV for a few weeks after being sick. Use care to keep from making others sick. Adults should be cautious if they have recently had a cold as it may have been caused by RSV. Adults should also avoid sneezing or coughing around infants and children. Adults should also wash their hands often, especially before touching a baby. Also, try to keep a sick baby away from others- especially babies. Babies should stay home from child care if he or she is not feeling well.