RSV in Young Children: Tips, Info and Prevention for Parents and Caregivers

Oct 28, 2022 | News

Dr. Laura Need | Berkshire Pediatrics, Pittsfield


With cases of RSV  (Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection) on the rise here and elsewhere, CHP Berkshire Pediatrics offers some tips and advice for parents and caregivers of young children who may catch this particular cold.

“For the vast majority of young children and adults, the virus acts like a cold and does not pose an emergency,” said Dr. Laura Need of Berkshire Pediatrics in Pittsfield, which has been handling a high number of calls about potential RSV infection. “But parents always want to know what to look for in case their child becomes more seriously ill.”

Need noted that Covid-19 has made everyone more knowledgeable and alert about contagious illnesses. In addition, “We still have Covid-19 circulating, and flu season is upon us.”

RSV, however, doesn’t have a vaccine as other illnesses do, and preventive measures can help.

>Keep a sick child home, and keep your child home until 24 hours after symptoms disappear.
>Avoid gatherings where others may be sick.
>Children should wear masks at indoor gatherings even if they are well.
>Wash hands and surfaces frequently.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing/sneezing/wheezing
  • Fever (not in all cases)
  • Irritability
  • Decreased activity

How to treat symptoms:

Most cold-like symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (for babies 3-6 months) or ibuprofen (for babies 6 months or older). Aspirin should never be given to children.

For children under 3 months, parents should consult their pediatric care provider.

Other ways to alleviate symptoms:

  • Creating steam in the bathroom can also reduce symptoms
  • Use nasal saline to help remove secretions from the nose
  • Use a humidifier in the sleep space
  • Keep your child hydrated.

When to seek emergency care:

  • Shallow or fast breathing
  • Difficulty feeding due to breathing
  • Chest caving in with each breath
  • Skin color change (blue or gray)

Who is at risk of serious illness from RSV?

  • Premature infants
  • Very young infants, especially those 6 months and younger
  • Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions
  • Older children with asthma

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States. Most bronchiolitis clears up on its own, but a small percentage with this symptom need to be hospitalized.

One to two out of every 100 children younger than 6 months of age with RSV infection may need to be hospitalized. Those who are hospitalized may require oxygen, intubation, and/or mechanical ventilation (help with breathing). Most improve with this type of supportive care and are discharged in a few days.

What can parents/caregivers do to prevent RSV?

In general, it can be harder to protect young children from seasonal contagious viruses but using common sense measures to keep parents and caregivers healthy is important.

  • Parents and caregivers of young children should wear a mask to help prevent their own exposure to RSV.
  • Keep toys and teething items clean.
  • As best you can, limit your child’s time in potentially contagious settings, especially during fall, winter, and spring.
  • Cover your own coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices

Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems.

If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before interacting with such children. They should also refrain from kissing high-risk children while they have cold-like symptoms.

Learn more about RSV on the Centers for Disease Control website.

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