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Respiratory Syncytial Virus


A respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection is an condition that causes your child's small airways to become inflamed and swollen. This virus is the most frequent cause of lung infections in infants and young children. An RSV infection often leads to other lung problems, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. An RSV infection can happen at any age, but happens more often in children younger than 2 years old. An RSV infection usually lasts 5 to 15 days. Most RSV infections go away on their own. A child with an RSV infection can usually be treated at home. Children at risk for severe illness may need to receive hospital treatment.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child.


  • Your child can get an RSV infection more than once. Even with treatment, RSV may cause severe, life-threatening illness if your child has heart or other lung problems. Without treatment, your child's condition may get worse. Fast breathing may cause feeding problems. A cough can cause him to vomit after he eats. This may cause your child to lose weight or not gain weight as he should. Your child may also get dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to problems with his organs, such as his heart, brain, or kidneys.

  • Your child's breathing problems may become worse and the amount of oxygen inside his body may decrease. When your child's body does not get enough oxygen, organs such as the kidneys, heart, and brain can be damaged. These problems can be life-threatening.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that your child may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your child's medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done to your child. Make sure all of your questions are answered.

Emotional support:

Stay with your child for comfort and support as often as possible while he is in the hospital. Ask another family member or someone close to the family to stay with your child when you cannot be there. Bring items from home that will comfort your child, such as a favorite blanket or toy.


Your child may be in isolation if he has an infection or disease that he can spread to others. Caregivers and visitors may need to wear gloves, a face mask, and a gown. Everyone should wash their hands before and after visiting your child.

Pulse oximeter:

A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your child's blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your child's foot, toe, hand, finger, or earlobe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your child's oxygen level is low or cannot be read.

Vital signs:

Caregivers will check your child's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask you or your child about his pain. These vital signs give caregivers information about your child's current health.


is a small tube placed in your child's vein that is used to give him medicine or liquids.


  • Antiviral medicine: This medicine may be given if your child has a severe infection or if he is at risk for severe infection.

  • Bronchodilators: Your child may be given bronchodilator medicine to help open the airways in his lungs. The medicine is mixed with air or oxygen in a machine to change it into a mist. The mist makes it easier for your child to breathe the medicine into his lungs. Breathing treatments are usually given through a mouthpiece or mask attached to the nebulizer (breathing treatment machine).

  • Fever medicine: Your child may receive medicine to reduce his fever.

  • Surfactant: Surfactant may be given if your infant is on a ventilator. Surfactant may be given through a tube to help your infant breathe easier. Your infant may receive more than 1 dose.


  • Blood gases: These tests are also called arterial blood gases (ABGs). Blood is taken from an artery usually in your child's wrist. ABGs may be done if your child has trouble breathing or other problems caused by his illness.

  • Blood tests: Your child may need blood tests to give caregivers information about how his body is working. The blood may be taken from your child's arm, hand, finger, foot, heel, or IV.

  • Culture: Your child may have his nose or throat swabbed with a cotton tip applicator. This will be sent to a lab for tests to learn what may be causing your child's condition. It can also determine which medicines are best to treat the illness.

  • Nasal wash: A nasal wash is a test to find out what is causing your child's illness. A sample of mucus from your child's nose may be taken with a suction (vacuum) tube. This sample will be sent to a lab for tests.


  • Mucus removal: This is a small tube that is placed in your child's mouth or nose. This tube sucks out the mucus in your child's mouth and nose to help him breathe easier. Saline drops may be put into your child's nose to loosen some of the mucus. Your child may need to be suctioned more than once.

  • Your child may need extra oxygen if his blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. Your child may get oxygen through a mask placed over his nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in his nostrils. Ask your child's healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

  • ET tube: Your child may need an endotracheal (ET) tube to help him breathe. An ET tube is put in your child's mouth or nose, and goes into the trachea (windpipe). It may be connected to a breathing machine called a ventilator. The ET tube will be taken out when your child is breathing better.


Your child may have trouble eating because of his breathing problems. A tube may be put in your child's mouth or nose and into his stomach to feed him while he is sick. As your child improves and gets better, he may be able to eat normally.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.