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What parents need to know about RSV

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a highly contagious virus that can lead to respiratory infection in babies, including serious lung infections. However, most of the time RSV will cause a mild, cold-like illness. RSV spreads when droplets from a cough, sneeze, or infected surface get inside the eyes, nose, or mouth.

It’s seasonal

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The typical RSV season usually occurs from fall through spring, but can vary by local area.

It’s common

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2 out of 3 babies will get RSV by age 1.

It’s unpredictable

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RSV can go from cold-like symptoms to hospitalization in less than a week.

It’s serious

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Babies are 16x more likely to be hospitalized with RSV lung infection than with the flu.

It's concerning

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Although severe RSV is rare, RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in babies under age 1.

It’s persistent

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On average, babies hospitalized with RSV stay for 3-4 days in hospital.
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What symptoms to look for

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RSV signs and symptoms

Most of the time RSV will cause a mild, cold-like illness. Initial symptoms of RSV can include:
  • congestion
  • runny nose
  • irritability
  • decreased appetite
  • fever
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When to call a doctor

As the infection spreads to the lungs the symptoms can worsen and can also cause severe illness such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Symptoms can include:
  • short, shallow, and abnormally fast breathing
  • a wheezing cough
  • nasal flaring
  • poor feeding
  • unusual tiredness
  • developing a blue tint to their lips or fingernails
  • fever

The real life impact of RSV

“I could never imagine I’d be watching my 3 week old in the back of an ambulance being sent to the children’s hospital”

“I hope that learning how RSV affected my family will help another family avoid what we went through."

How you can take action today

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Additional questions you may have about RSV

The symptoms of RSV in babies usually appear in stages, not all at once, and may only include irritability, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing.

RSV, the flu, and COVID-19 are all respiratory illnesses that can have similar symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These illnesses are caused by different viruses, but they can be hard to tell apart based on their symptoms alone. A healthcare professional may use a diagnostic test to identify a potential case.

RSV can spread in many ways:

  • Coughs or sneezes from an infected person
  • Virus droplets getting in the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Touching a surface with the virus on it
  • Direct contact with the virus (e.g., kissing an infected person)

Most RSV infections may last for a week or two. However, RSV can cause severe illness in some babies due to their developing immune system.

RSV is highly contagious. It spreads when droplets from a cough, sneeze, or infected surface get inside the eyes, nose, or mouth.

It is possible that your baby may get RSV more than once.

Since most RSV cases are mild, testing is usually not required to diagnose the infection. However, depending on your baby’s medical history and the time of year, their doctor may do a nose swab or blood test to look for viruses and check white blood cell counts. In more severe RSV cases where hospitalization is required, your doctor may do a chest X-ray or CT scan to check for lung complications.

You can ask your baby’s doctor about Beyfortus. In the meantime, follow these simple handy hygiene tips:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Disinfect toys and surfaces
  • Avoid close contact with those who are ill
  • If you have cold-like symptoms, avoid kissing and touching babies with unwashed hands and avoid sharing utensils

A baby's immune system might not have the antibodies needed to protect them against their first RSV infection.

If an RSV infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract, it can cause the airway to inflame and make it harder for your baby to breathe. This can lead to pneumonia and bronchiolitis.

Bronchiolitis (bron-key-oh-lie-tis) is a viral infection in the smallest airways (bronchioles) in your lungs. When the bronchioles swell and become inflamed, mucus may build up, leading to congestion and difficulty breathing.

Pneumonia (noo-mohn-yuh) is a lung infection that can cause mild to severe coughing, fever, and trouble breathing.

Your baby may catch RSV from other family members or siblings that are exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or child-care centers.