Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. Almost all babies get it before the age of 2. Your baby can get RSV at any time of year, but it's most common from November to April. 

Most healthy children get mild, cold-like symptoms. But RSV can be more serious in young babies, especially those who were born premature, have lung problems, heart problems or other chronic illnesses. Severe RSV may lead to other serious infections, like:

  • Bronchiolitis, an infection that causes swelling in the smallest air passages in the lungs
  • Pneumonia, an infection in one or both lungs

What are signs and symptoms of RSV?

Signs and symptoms of RSV include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sluggish or being inactive
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing

Symptoms of RSV usually last about one to two weeks. If you think your baby may have RSV, contact her health care provider. 

When should you call your baby's health care provider right away?

Call your baby's health care provider right away if your baby has:

  • Cough that gets worse or she coughs up yellow, green or gray mucus
  • High fever. High fever is a temperature greater than 100.4 F in babies younger than 2 months, 101 F in babies aged 3 to 6 months or 103 F in babies older than 6 months. 
  • Looks dehydrated
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Trouble breathing or mouth and fingernails look blue

How is RSV treated?

There’s no specific treatment for RSV, but there are ways to help relieve symptoms. If your baby has RSV, be sure she gets extra rest and drinks lots of fluids. You also can use a rubber suction bulb to help clear mucus from your baby's nose, especially before feedings. A cool-mist humidifier can help your baby breathe easier. If your baby has a fever, talk to her health provider about using acetaminophen to reduce her fever. 

Most babies with RSV do not become seriously ill. But a few may need to be treated in the hospital with oxygen, moist (humidified) air or fluids through a needle into the vein, also called IV.  A breathing machine, called a ventilator, may also be used. In some cases, the baby may need bronchodilators or antiviral medicines. Bronchodilator is medicine that helps open up air passages in the lungs. An antiviral is medicine that kills infections caused by viruses. 

How can you help protect your baby from RSV?

You can help protect your baby from RSV by:

  • Keeping him away from people who are sneezing or coughing
  • Making sure everyone who touches the baby has clean hands
  • Keeping your baby away from crowds of people
  • Not allowing anyone to smoke near your baby

If your baby is at high risk of getting severe RSV, talk to her health provider about ways to help prevent the illness. These babies include those who were born premature, have lung problems, heart problems or other chronic illnesses. 

Babies who are at high risk from severe RSV may benefit from medication that helps prevent the severe infection. This medication is called palivizumab. It is given in monthly injections during the fall and winter months. However, the medication can’t help cure or treat children who already have severe RSV or prevent mild infection.

Last reviewed: November, 2013