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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection - Treatment Overview

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections are usually mild and seem like a common cold. In most cases, RSV infections go away on their own in about 10 to 14 days. Home treatment to ease symptoms and prevent complications is usually all that is needed.

  • Watch for signs of dehydration. Signs of dehydration include being thirstier than usual and having darker urine than usual. Make sure to replace fluids lost through rapid breathing, fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Encourage more frequent breast- or bottle-feeding. Avoid giving your baby sports drinks, soft drinks, undiluted fruit juice, or water. These beverages may contain too much sugar, contain too few calories, or lack the proper balance of essential minerals (electrolytes).
  • Make your child more comfortable by helping relieve his or her symptoms. Sometimes a child may get some relief from medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or from being kept in an upright position, which makes breathing easier. You can suction your baby's nose if he or she can't breathe well enough to eat or sleep.
  • Make sure you understand whether and when antibiotics are needed. Antibiotics are not usually given for RSV infections. But if your child develops complications, such as an ear infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Do not stop giving antibiotic medicine when your child starts to feel better. The entire prescription must be taken to completely kill the bacteria. If you do not give your child all the medicine, the bacterial infection may return.
  • Take care of yourself. Caring for a sick child can be very tiring physically and emotionally. You can best help your child when you are rested and feeling well.

Treatment for severe infection or complications

Children who develop lower respiratory infections, especially bronchiolitis, may need medicines such as bronchodilators in addition to home treatment. Antibiotics may be used to treat a bacterial infection (such as pneumonia) that develops as a complication. But antibiotics don't treat RSV or any other viral infection.

When complications develop in otherwise healthy children, corticosteroid medicines sometimes are used. But more study is needed before corticosteroids are routinely recommended for this purpose.

A child who is having difficulty breathing or is dehydrated may need to be cared for in a hospital. The child may need respiratory and other medical treatments. In very rare cases, some children receive the antiviral medicine ribavirin while they are in the hospital.

  • Pregnant women should avoid contact with a child who is receiving ribavirin.
  • If your child is in the hospital for RSV, there are extra measures you can take to make his or her stay comfortable.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 25, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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