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Everything You Need to Know about RSV this Winter

With the cooler months also comes the rise of more upper respiratory viruses. Dr. Rahul at Banner Children’s at Thunderbird Medical Center, answers commonly asked questions about RSV and what you need to know to keep your family safe and healthy this winter. 

What is RSV? 

RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. It is a well-known respiratory virus that is spread by contact and respiratory droplets. It usually causes mild cold-like symptoms in most children. Most children by the age of 2 have been infected by RSV at some point. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways of the lung) and pneumonia in young children. 

Why are RSV cases on the rise this winter? 

Typically, we see RSV cases rise in the winter months usually starting in November as we do with other upper respiratory viruses. We have had years in the past when RSV started circulating in late summer and other times when it started after January. This year we are seeing it earlier than we usually do. 

Who is most at-risk for severe complications? 

Children under the age of 1 are at higher risk of severe complications, especially those with chronic medical problems such as history of prematurity, chronic lung disease, and congenital heart disease. Usually, the younger the patient is the sicker they can get since their airways are smaller to begin with. 

What are common signs and symptoms of RSV? 

Common signs and symptoms of RSV include cough, runny nose, wheezing, difficulty breathing with retractions (accessory muscle use in chest and abdomen), difficulty feeding, fatigue, apnea (pausing in breathing), and fever.

What should parents/caregivers do if they suspect their child might have RSV? 

Parents who suspect that their child may have RSV should have their child evaluated by a medical professional and should keep their child away from others as much as possible.

What treatments are available? 

Most children with RSV will do fine at home with supportive care including fever-reducing medications and encouraging drinking plenty of fluids. Parents can try to clear out the nose of secretions and mucous at home. If a child is sick with respiratory distress, they should be evaluated by a medical professional. Some children require hospitalization for supplemental oxygen therapy and others can be sick enough for Pediatric Intensive Care Unit admission for more invasive respiratory support including intubation and mechanical ventilation. Antibiotics do not work for RSV since it is a viral infection. 

How can parents/caregivers try to keep their child safe and healthy this winter? 

Parents should practice good hand hygiene with frequent hand washing. They should also try to avoid exposure for their children with others that have upper respiratory infections. RSV can live on surfaces for hours so proper cleaning is also essential. 


Dr. Rahul Chawla is a Pediatric Intensive Care Physician/Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician at Banner Children’s at Thunderbird Medical Center. 

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