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Respiratory Syncytial Virus


An RSV infection is a condition that causes your child's airway to become inflamed and swollen. This virus is the most common 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. 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.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child has a hard time breathing, is breathing faster than usual, or has pauses in his breathing.
  • Your child has signs of dehydration:
    • Crying without tears
    • Dry mouth or cracked lips
    • More irritable or sleepy than normal
    • Sunken soft spot on the top of the head, if your child is younger than 1 year
    • Urinating less than usual, or not at all.
  • Your child's lips or nails turn blue.
  • Your child's symptoms do not get better, or they get worse.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever and is wheezing.
  • Your child is not eating, has nausea, or is vomiting.
  • Your child is very tired or weak or is sleeping more than usual.
  • Your child is breathing fast:
    • More than 50 breaths in 1 minute if he is 6 months or younger
    • More than 40 breaths in 1 minute if he is 6 to 11 months
    • More than 30 breaths in 1 minute if he is 1 year or older
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


Antibiotics only treat a bacterial infection and will not treat an RSV infection. Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to a child younger than 6 months. The following can help you manage your child's symptoms until the RSV infection is gone:

  • Acetaminophen may help decrease your child's pain and fever. This medicine is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much medicine is safe to give your child, and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Manage your child's symptoms:

  • Have your child rest. Rest can help your child's body fight the infection.
  • Prevent dehydration. Encourage your child to drink liquids often. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him.
  • Mucus removal is a procedure used to suck mucus from your child's nose with a bulb syringe. Do this before you feed him so it is easier for him to drink and eat. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to use a bulb syringe. Ask for information about nose drops that help thin your child's mucus.
    Proper Use of Bulb Syringe

Prevent an RSV infection:

  • Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water. Use gel hand cleaner when soap and water are not available. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Keep your child away from others while he is sick. This will help prevent spreading the virus to others.
  • Clean toys and surfaces. Clean toys that are shared with other children. Use a disinfectant solution to clean common surfaces.
  • Do not smoke around your child or expose your child to smoke. Smoke can make your child's symptoms worse. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage.
  • Ask about medicine that protects against severe RSV. Your child may need to receive antiviral medicine to help protect him from severe illness. The medicine may be given if your child was born prematurely or has a chronic lung disease. When needed, your child will receive 1 dose every month for 5 months. The first dose is usually given in early November. Ask your child's healthcare provider if this medicine is right for your child.

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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.