Parents, beware! Cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial (pronounced sin-SISH-uhl) virus, are on the rise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says RSV may severely affect premature babies and young infants, among other vulnerable groups, hospitalizing more than 57,000 children under the age of 5 every year, on average. So, what is RSV and how does it spread? 

Symptoms of RSV or Common Cold?

RSV is most prevalent in winter and early spring. An RSV infection often resembles the flu or a common cold, with symptoms including a runny nose or nasal congestion, cough, wheezing, reduced appetite, and fever. 

While most people recover from RSV within a week or two, severe cases may require hospitalization and supplemental oxygen. That’s why the CDC recommends contacting your health care provider if you or your child have worsening symptoms, difficulty breathing, or reduced fluid intake. 

How Does RSV Spread?

This highly contagious virus typically spreads through close contact with infected people (coughing and sneezing) and contact with surfaces already contaminated with the virus.

For moms and caretakers especially, it’s important to note that RSV can survive for several hours on commonly touched surfaces your child may come in contact with on a daily basis, things like toys and playground equipment. 

Parents of children at high risk for developing severe diseases if infected with RSV – premature infants, children under 2 years old with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems – should be extra vigilant in taking steps to prevent exposure to this virus. A drug called palivizumab (pah-lih-VIH-su-mahb) can help prevent serious RSV illness in certain infants and children at high risk for severe disease. Speak to your child’s doctor if you think your child may benefit from this medication.

RSV Prevention Tips for Families

The CDC notes that nearly all children in the U.S. will have an RSV infection by their second birthday. Most people recover from RSV within one to two weeks.

Although there is no vaccine for RSV, there are several precautions you can take to reduce your family’s risk:

  • Wash hands, frequently and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, and nose, especially when you are in areas with surfaces that are likely contaminated, such as day care centers, health care facilities, and public transit vehicles
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, NOT your hands
  • Stay home from work, school, or child care settings when sick
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces with a solution of 1 part regular chlorine bleach to 9 parts water

It’s important to remember that RSV is another cootie that can make children sick, so take proactive steps to help prevent infection.