Each year in the United States, an estimated 58,000–80,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection. Those at greatest risk for severe illness from RSV include:
• Premature infants • 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
Early Symptoms of RSV
RSV may not be severe when it first starts. However, it can become more severe a few days into the illness. Early symptoms of RSV may include:
• Runny nose
• Decrease in appetite
• Cough, which may progress to wheezing or difficulty breathing.
Call your healthcare provider if your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.
Severe RSV Infection
Virtually all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old. Most of the time RSV will cause a mild, cold-like illness, but it can also cause severe illness such as:
• Bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung)
• Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
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, IV fluids (if they aren’t eating and drinking), and/or mechanical ventilation (a machine to help with breathing). Most improve with this type of supportive care and are discharged in a few days.
Medication for Babies at High Risk
There is a medicine that can help protect some babies at high risk for severe RSV disease. Healthcare providers usually give this medicine (called palivizumab) to very premature infants and young children with certain heart and lung conditions as a series of monthly shots during RSV season. If you are concerned about your child’s risk for severe RSV infection, talk to your child’s healthcare provider.
RSV in Very Young Infants
Infants who get an RSV infection almost always show symptoms. This is different from adults who can have few or no symptoms with RSV infection. In very young infants (less than 6 months old), the only symptoms of RSV infection may be:
• Decreased activity
• Decreased appetite
• Apnea (pauses in breathing more than 10 seconds)
What you should do if your child is at high risk for severe RSV infection
RSV season in most regions of the U.S. starts in the fall and peaks in the winter. If you have contact with an infant or young child, especially those who were born prematurely, have chronic lung or heart disease or a weakened immune system, you should take extra care to keep the infant healthy by doing the following:
• Wash your hands often
• Keep your hands off your face
• Avoid close contact with sick people
• Cover your coughs and sneezes
• Clean and disinfect surfaces
• Stay home when you are sick