Respiratory syncytial virus infection,
usually called RSV, is a lot like a bad cold. It causes the same symptoms. And
like a cold, it is very common and very contagious. Most children have had it
at least once by age 2.
RSV is usually not something to worry
about. But it can lead to
pneumonia or other problems in some people, especially
babies. So it's important to watch the symptoms and call your doctor if they
A virus causes RSV
infection. Like a cold virus, RSV attacks your nose, eyes, throat, and lungs.
It spreads like a cold too, when you cough, sneeze, or share food or
There are many kinds of RSV, so your body never becomes
immune to it. You can get it again and again
throughout your life, sometimes during the same season.
RSV usually causes the same
symptoms as a bad cold, such as:
Babies with RSV may also:
- Have no energy.
- Act fussy or cranky.
- Be less hungry than usual.
Some children have more serious symptoms, like wheezing.
Call your doctor if your child is wheezing or having trouble breathing.
Doctors usually diagnose RSV
by asking about your or your child's symptoms and by knowing whether there is
an outbreak of the infection in your area.
There are tests for
RSV, but they aren't usually needed. Your doctor may want to do testing if you
or your child may be likely to have other problems. The most common test uses a
sample of the drainage from your nose.
RSV usually goes away on its
own. For most people, home treatment is all that is needed. If your child has
- Prop up your child's head to make it easier to breathe and
- Suction your baby's nose if he or she can't breathe well enough
to eat or sleep.
- Relieve fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, if needed. Never give
aspirin to someone younger than 20 years, because it can cause
Reye syndrome, a serious but rare problem.
When a person with RSV is otherwise healthy, symptoms
usually get better in a week or two.
RSV can be serious when the
symptoms are very bad or when it leads to other problems, like pneumonia.
Certain people are more likely to have problems with RSV:
- Babies younger than 6 months, especially those born early (prematurely)
- People with
immune system problems
- People with heart or lung problems
- Adults older than 65
These people sometimes need treatment in a hospital. So
it's important to watch the symptoms and call your doctor if they get