2:39 min| 291,323 views
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common illness that causes coldlike symptoms, which will usually go away on their own after a few weeks. But if a more serious infection develops, then your baby may have to be admitted to the hospital for oxygen treatments and IV fluids. Find out when you should take your baby to see a doctor and how to keep him comfortable as he fights this infection.
Dr. Dawn Rosenberg, M.D., FAAP, is a board-certified general pediatrician in San Francisco.
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common respiratory virus that causes cold symptoms, coughing, and sometimes breathing problems in babies. It's the most frequent cause of lower respiratory infections in young children.
If your baby has RSV, she may have symptoms of a runny nose, cough, or fever. She may have low energy and poor appetite. More-severe cases of RSV may cause rapid, labored breathing or persistent wheezing. These can be a sign of respiratory distress, which is serious and requires medical attention.
The virus spreads through droplets in the air or from contact with a contaminated surface. So your baby may get the virus if she's in close contact with an infected child who's sneezing or coughing nearby. Or your baby may touch a contaminated toy, and then the virus enters her body when she puts her fingers in her mouth.
Unfortunately, there's no cure for RSV. Like most viruses, your body's immune system will typically fight this germ on its own. If the infection is serious and your baby is having respiratory distress, she may need to be admitted to the hospital for supportive care like oxygen, IV fluids, and frequent nasal suctioning. Most of the time, the symptoms of RSV will resolve in one to two weeks, although the cough may linger.
There are a few ways to make your baby feel more comfortable when she is fighting the germ. Use nasal saline and a bulb syringe to loosen and remove all the mucus in the nose. Use a cool-mist vaporizer to moisten her airways. Offer her plenty of extra fluids to keep her well hydrated. You could try a dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen – ibuprofen only if she is at least 6 months old. This may relieve some of the discomfort.
Call your doctor if your baby has any signs of respiratory distress, like labored fast breathing, excessive wheezing, or worsening persistent cough. Other concerns are lethargy or persistent high fever.
RSV is no fun, so do your best to prevent it. Remember to wash hands often. Don't share eating or drinking utensils. Avoid crowds and people who are ill. Also, tobacco smoke can worsen symptoms, so keep your baby away from smoke. And don't forget to give your baby her flu shot every year in the fall or winter, if she's 6 months old or older.
Video production by Paige Bierma.