Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a viral infection with cold-like symptoms. (1)
The recovery for most people can be without any issue, but it can be serious for infants and older adults, in most cases in certain age groups such as:
- Babies younger than 6 months
- Babies born prematurely
- Babies with lung disease or weak immunity
- Children with neuromuscular disorders
- Children younger than 2 years old with a chronic lung disease
The virus can spread easily from person to person, and it is more prevalent during winter and spring than in the other parts of the year. It is present in the droplets from sneezes and coughs of other people, but you can get the virus from a contaminated toy or a doorknob as well.
It is estimated that around 58,000 children younger than 5 in the United States are hospitalized each year due to this infection. (2)
In this article, we will explain the symptoms and treatment of Respiratory syncytial virus in babies and give you some advice on when to see a doctor and how to prevent the spread of the virus.
RSV Symptoms In Newborns
When newborns get infected with the virus, the first symptoms usually appear 4 to 6 days after the infection and symptoms and are very similar to the common cold. Signs of RSV in newborns include:
- Decrease in appetite and sleeping
- Fast breathing
- Stopping breathing
- A runny nose
- Low energy
The symptoms do not appear all at once but in stages. It is believed that almost every child will get the virus when being an infant and before their second birthday.
In very young infants, symptoms may vary, and every child may experience the virus differently. However, it can lead to some serious conditions such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. If their lungs are affected, it may cause difficulty in breathing, and the infant must be hospitalized.
It is diagnosed by your doctor by performing a physical exam and asking you some questions about the symptoms and the infant’s condition. In some cases, your child will have a test, such as a nasal swab or wash. Other tests may include:
- Chest X-rays to check for lung inflammation
- A blood test to check the white cells count
- Pulse oximetry to check the baby’s oxygen and blood levels
However, these tests are not always necessary and children, in most cases, recover on their own.
The first symptoms are usually a runny nose and congestion. After that, the wheezing and mild cough may appear and, unfortunately, in some cases may progress into hard and difficult breathing, which is visibly shown.
RSV in Very Young Infants (2, 4 and up to 6 months old)
Very young infants have different symptoms from adults or infants younger than 6 months old. The symptoms of RSV in newborns and small babies are as follows:
- Pauses while breathing (apnea)
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased activity
In some cases, fever may occur, but not necessarily.
They may last for one week but also may last up to three weeks and the best treatment is to focus on supportive care. The treatment may vary depending on the symptoms.
It is very similar to a common cold, but it can differentiate from it by some symptoms that are unique such as:
- Fast or difficult breathing
- Flaring of the nostrils with each breath
Home Treatment For Severe RVS Conditions In Newborns
If you choose to treat your baby with Respiratory syncytial virus at home, you can use a bulb syringe to take out the excess mucus from the nose so they can easily breathe and eat.
It is advisable to clear the baby’s nose before eating and sleeping to make it easier for the baby. You can combine this with over-the-counter saline drops that are safe for babies and are placed into the nostrils after the suctioning.
Cool mist humidifier
When you treat a baby with Respiratory syncytial virus at home, you may also buy a cool-mist humidifier to moisture the air in your home.
Treating The Fever In Small Infants
If your infant has a fever, you can give him acetaminophen ( Tylenol), which is a safe alternative compared to other drugs for children under 24 months. However, you should always consult a pediatrician before giving this drug to infants for the correct dosage according to the baby’s weight, verify it on the labeling, and make a note of each dose the baby had.
Call your doctor immediately if you see some side effects after giving Tylenol, such as:
- Unusual bruising
- Urinating problems
Taking too much Tylenol may cause liver damage, which can be even fatal and you should call 911 if your baby:
- Has difficulty breathing after taking the drug
- Develops rush all over the body
- Has a green or yellow tinge over the body or in the whites in their eyes
- You gave me more than the prescribed dose of the drug
Antibiotics are not usually given for viruses and there is no vaccine to prevent this virus. In addition, there are no medications that can shorten the course of the infection.
Preventing dehydration is crucial
When treating the baby with Respiratory syncytial virus, one of the most important things to do is to provide the baby with needed fluids to prevent dehydration. You should breastfeed the baby as much as you can or give the baby formula, and ask the health practitioner if you can give the baby an electrolyte replacement solution. If the baby is younger than 12 months, you should not give any fruit juice or water.
If it is older than 12 months, you can give them a lot of fluids like chicken broth or water.
In some cases, your baby may need to get an intravenous line to get fluids or electrolytes when in-hospital care.
Do not expose your baby to cigarette smoke
One of the best ways to keep your baby healthy is to limit his access to cigarette smoke, which can worsen the symptoms of the virus and the baby’s health condition.
Keep the baby in the upright position
While sleeping, place the baby on its back to sleep and, if possible, raise its mattress by 3 inches by placing an object underneath it to keep it higher.
Sitting in a steamy bathroom
In the bathroom, turn on the hot shower and fill it with steam to reduce the inflammation and thin the mucus. This will make breathing easier.
Medical Treatment For Severe RVS Conditions In Newborns
Treatment with oxygen
If the baby has difficulty breathing, it can be very dangerous because it can stop breathing, so giving oxygen will raise the oxygen levels and ease the breathing.
In some severe cases, a breathing machine, a mechanical ventilator, is needed to inflate the baby’s lungs.
How Can You Prevent It?
- Wash your hands often
- Do not share toys or objects with other people and wash them frequently
- Stay away from crowds
- Clean the surfaces in your home often
- Avoid touching your nose and eyes
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze