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RSV Acts Like A Cold But Can be Much Worse

Author: CHKD Medical Group, Dr. Vernita Peeples
Published Date: Monday, February 03, 2020

By Dr. Vernita Peeples, Pediatric Partners of Hampton Roads

What looks like a cold, sounds like a cold, but can quickly turn more serious?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

RSV is one of many viruses that cause illnesses of the nose, throat, and lungs, most commonly circulating from late fall through early spring.

In most children, the virus acts like a typical cold, with a fever, runny nose, and a cough, usually spanning about a week. Symptoms are typically at their worst on days three through five of the illness. Almost all children get RSV at least once before they are 2 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In premature infants or babies with lung disease, however, RSV can lead to serious lower respiratory tract infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports RSV is the No. 1 reason for pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an infection of the airways. About 3 percent of children with RSV have 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.

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.

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.


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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.