What is RSV?

Dear Mamas,

My son is 8 months old and has what I thought was an ugly cold. We just came from the pediatrician, who says he has RSV.  I know it’s a virus, but I’ve never heard of it before.  Why didn’t the dr. give him antibiotics? How worried do I need to be?  He doesn’t seem that sick, but the dr. gave me a list of things to watch for that kind of freaked me out.  Can you give me some information?

Heather B.

Dear Heather,

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus, and it causes symptoms that are similar to a bad cold.  It’s very common and very contagious, and most children and adults have had it at least once.  Like the common cold, there are lots of different varieties, so you never become immune to it.

RSV is usually not too serious, but in small infants or those with other medical problems it can be a troublemaker.  You don’t mention any risk factors for your little guy, but a history of prematurity or lung problems can mean you need to be extra cautious.

Babies with RSV can be listless and less active than usual.  They may act fussy and have a poor appetite.  Like with a cold, their noses may get stuffed, and that makes breathing uncomfortable.

RSV usually goes away on it’s own, and treatment is aimed at making kids more comfortable for the 7-10 days it takes for the symptoms to resolve.  Antibiotics don’t help, because they’re not effective against viruses, only bacteria.  There are some anti-viral medications that can be prescribed, but they’re usually reserved for severe cases.

Sometimes, more serious symptoms can develop.  Inflammation of tiny airways can cause wheezing and make moving air in and out of small lungs difficult.  If sucking gets too difficult, babies may become dehydrated.  Watch for these, and call your doctor if you’re concerned.  Occasionally, babies need a couple of days in the hospital so they can be given a boost of fluids and breathing medication while they recover.

So keep an eye on your little guy, offer fluids often, and do your best to keep him happy and comfortable.  It’s never easy having a sick little one at home, but know that this too shall pass, wash your hands like a maniac to keep from spreading it, and cross your fingers that you and Dad don’t catch it!

~ Your Mamas

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “What is RSV?”

  1. MPK

    Use a lot of saline to keep his nose clear. Use a syringe and 5ml for each nostril. He will get used to it and it HELPS! My son had RSV on top of chronic pneumonia and stopped breathing 3 times. After hospitalization and a lot of oxygen we didn’t sleep for months because there were no devices available to monitor him closely at home. Later I used the Angel Care system for my youngest daughter when she had RSV at 2,5 weeks. Angel Care costs about $100,- and saved me. I did not sleep for months while I did have to go to work, breastfed my son (22 months, almost the only thing he would take) and also had my eldest daughter toddling around. Only after they removed his tonsils and adenoid he got better. Still the skinny type at age 8, he has been healthy ever since.

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.