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Is That Cold RSV in Disguise?

Before you dismiss your baby’s sniffles as merely a common cold, consider this: What often appears to be a common cold may in fact be a very common virus called RSV in disguise.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older, healthy children. Unfortunately, RSV can be more serious in young babies, especially to those in certain high-risk groups, and it spreads easily by physical contact.

Premature babies, infants with chronic lung disease, those with weakened immune systems, and those with certain forms of heart disease are most susceptible.  And time of year is notorious for RSV – outbreaks of infections usually begin in the fall and run into the spring. True to form, RSV, which tends to rise every third year, has shown to have infected larger numbers this year than the past two.

This is no reason to panic. In fact, most infants have had this infection by age two.

Be on the lookout, however, for certain symptoms. If a baby isn’t able to feed, is acting lethargic or abnormal, is wheezing, or if their breathing is labored, requiring use of their chest muscles to breathe, the baby should be taken to a primary care physician. At home, RSV can be treated like a regular cold. Use a humidifier, encourage fluids, make use of a bulb suction nasal aspirator to clear mucus before feeding, and make feedings smaller and more frequent, as their appetite may lessen.

In severe RSV cases, an infant may need to be hospitalized in order to receive oxygen, humidified air, and fluids by IV. A ventilator may also be needed.

It is important that RSV is addressed promptly, as it can lead to ear infections, lung failure, and pneumonia.

But of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wash your hands—RSV can live for a half an hour or more on hands, keep babies away from those who are sick, and be an advocate for your child—don’t allow strangers to touch your child.

Do not smoke inside your house, car, or anywhere near your baby. Exposure to tobacco smoke increases the risk of RSV illness. Additionally, try to keep young children away from your baby. RSV is very common among young children and easily spreads from child to child. Finally, common household cleaners can keep the virus, which can also live for up to 5 hours on countertops and for several hours on used tissues, from spreading.

Dr. Karen Chilton, MD, is a WakeMed pediatric intensivist.

WakeMed Children’s is dedicated to providing answers to common questions parents have about children’s health and wellbeing.   Learn more by subscribing to WakeMed’s Families First newsletter.  Have a specific question you would like answered?  Post a comment or email us directly.


One thought on “Is That Cold RSV in Disguise?

  1. “Additionally, try to keep young children away from your baby. RSV is very common among young children and easily spreads from child to child.”

    Easier said than done when you have a infant and school age children in the home. My son who is now 3 spent 4 days in the PICU at wakemed just after his first birthday. Infants who have school age siblings need to be added to the high risk group!

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