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RSV Acts Like a Cold but Can Be Much Worse

By Dr. DeAnnah Jordan, Norfolk Pediatrics

Respiratory Syncytial Virus - it looks like a cold, sounds like a cold, but can quickly turn more serious.

Most commonly circulating from late fall through early spring, the virus acts like a typical cold in most children. Symptoms such as fever, runny nose, and cough usually span about a week and are typically at their worst on days three through five of the illness.

However, in premature infants or babies with lung disease, RSV can lead to serious lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports RSV as the number one reason for pneumonia and bronchiolitis in children under 1 year of age. Some children with RSV—about two to three percent—need to be admitted to the hospital.

Other children at high risk for these complications are babies with a history of allergies or heart problems and low birth weight. Also at higher risk are babies exposed to secondhand smoke and those whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.

New this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Beyfortus, a drug used to prevent RSV in babies. Parents of infants 8 months or younger should ask their doctor if their child qualifies.

How to help your child feel better:

  • Nasal saline with gentle suctioning.
  • Cool-mist humidifier to break up mucus.
  • Fluids and frequent feedings.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for children older than 6 months to help with fevers. Always avoid aspirin and cough or cold medicines.

Signs you should call the doctor:

  • Symptoms worsen or do not improve after seven days.
  • A fever with a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher if the baby is younger than 3 months. Or, a fever that rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit repeatedly for a child of any age.
  • Poor sleep or fussiness, chest pain, ear tugging, or ear drainage.
  • Fast breathing, flaring of nostrils, wheezing, rhythmic grunting during breathing, belly breathing, tugging between their ribs, and tugging at the lower neck.
  • Dehydration (less than one wet diaper every eight hours).
  • Pauses or difficulty breathing.
  • Gray or blue color to tongue, lips, or skin.
  • Decreased activity and alertness.


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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.