Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection facts

  • RSV is a highly contagious virus infection that most commonly causes illness during the winter season.
  • Most children who develop an RSV infection have mild symptoms of fever, nasal congestion, and nasal discharge.
  • High-risk groups are more likely to have a more severe disease process, including wheezing (bronchiolitis in infants) and/or pneumonia. Such high-risk groups include premature infants, those children with a compromised immune system, or those with chronic pulmonary disease or congenital/acquired cardiac disease.
  • Supportive care is the mainstay of therapy. For high-risk patients, palivizumab (Synagis) preventative therapy is available.

What is the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), discovered in 1956, is capable of causing a broad spectrum of illnesses. Older children and adults will commonly experience a "bad cold" lasting one to two weeks. Fever, nasal congestion, and cough are their most common complaints. However, in babies and toddlers, RSV can produce severe pulmonary diseases, including bronchiolitis (inflammation of the terminal airways which produces wheezing) and pneumonia (infection of these terminal airways).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/24/2014

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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Treatments for Babies

Although palivizumab may help prevent serious complications of RSV infection, it is not used to treat RSV. There is no medication to treat the virus itself. Therefore, caring for a baby with RSV infection involves treating symptoms of infection and its effects on the respiratory system.

For most babies and young children, at-home care is enough.

At-home treatment includes:

  • Removing sticky nasal fluids with a bulb syringe.
  • Using a cool-mist vaporizer to keep the air moist and make breathing easier.
  • Providing fluids in small amounts frequently through the day.
  • Giving non-aspirin fever-reducers such as acetaminophen.

For babies with more serious cases requiring hospitalization, treatment may include:

  • Oxygen
  • IV fluids
  • Medications to open the airways


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