RSV in Babies: What to Know

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common, and very contagious, virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday.

For most babies and young children, the infection causes nothing more than a cold. But for a small percentage, infection with RSV can lead to serious problems such as bronchiolitis, which is inflammation of the small airways of the lungs, or pneumonia, which can become life-threatening.

The chance of severe infection is greatest for:

  • Babies born prematurely
  • Children younger than 2 who were born with heart or lung disease
  • Infants and young children whose immune systems are weakened due to illness or medical treatment
  • Children under 8 to 10 weeks old


RSV infection can cause cold-like symptoms, including cough and runny nose, which usually last for 1-2 weeks.

Call your baby's doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

If your baby is very tired, breathes rapidly, or has a blue tint to the lips or fingernails, get medical attention immediately.


There are some steps you can take to try to avoid and prevent RSV:

  • Wash your hands often, especially after contact with anyone who has cold symptoms.
  • Clean and disinfect hard surfaces.
  • Only let people touch your baby after they wash their hands.
  • Avoid kissing your baby if you have cold symptoms.
  • Keep your baby away from crowds.
  • Don’t let anyone smoke around your baby.
  • Limit the time high-risk babies and young children stay in day care, particularly from late fall to early spring when RSV is most common.
  • If possible, keep your baby away from anyone, including older brothers or sisters, who has cold symptoms.

There is no vaccine for RSV. But a medication called palivizumab may prevent RSV infections and protect high-risk babies from serious complications of RSV infection. If your doctor says your baby is at high risk, she may recommend a monthly shot of this medication during peak RSV season.


RSV Treatments

Although palivizumab may help prevent serious complications of RSV infection, doctors don’t use it to treat RSV. No medication treats the virus itself. So caring for a baby with RSV infection involves treating symptoms of infection and its effects on the respiratory system.

For most babies and young children, at-home care is enough. You can:

  • Remove sticky nasal fluids with a bulb syringe using saline drops
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer to keep the air moist and make breathing easier
  • Give your little one fluids in small amounts throughout the day
  • Use non-aspirin fever-reducers such as acetaminophen. Check the label and follow all directions carefully.

Babies with more serious cases may need to go to a hospital, where their treatment may include:

  • Oxygen
  • IV fluids
  • Medications to open the airways
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2018



Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)."

CDC: "Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV)."

KidsHealth: "About RSV."

March of Dimes: "RSV."

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