Symptoms and Prevention

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a type of cold virus that is easy to catch and infects most babies less than 18 months of age. RSV usually begins as a cold, and can then progress to wheezing, fast breathing, coughing and fever. To find out if your child has RSV, the doctor may order a test on the mucus from his nose.

Symptoms: When to See a Doctor

Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention if your child:

  • Is so weak and tired that he hardly responds to you.
  • Is working very hard to breathe or finds it hard to take a breath.
  • Grunts when he breathes.
  • Has chest retractions (skin pulling in around the ribs and chest when breathing).
  • Has a blue or dark purple color to the nail beds, lips or gums.
  • Stops breathing for more than 10 seconds.
  • Cannot speak while trying to breathe.
  • Has any breathing problem that needs care right away.

Call your baby’s doctor right away if your child:

  • Does not smile or show interest in play for at least a few minutes during a 4-hour period.
  • Wheezes or breathes harder than he did when he was seen by the doctor.
  • Is unable to breathe and suck at the same time or chokes when he sucks.
  • Has any fever and is less than 3 months old, or has a fever lasting longer than 3 days in older babies.
  • Cannot be calmed for at least a few minutes each hour using methods that usually work for your baby, such as holding, rocking, pacifiers or soothing talk.

Also, call the doctor if you:

  • See signs of dehydration (drying out).
  • No urine in 6 hours in a baby less than 1 year of age.
  • No urine in more than 8 hours in a baby or child older than 1 year of age.
  • No tears when crying.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Dry lips and mouth.
  • Have any questions or concerns about how your baby looks or feels.


Antibiotics do not treat RSV because antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

To help prevent your child from becoming sick:

  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands frequently, particularly after contact with anyone with cold symptoms.
  • Do not allow people to touch your child without first washing their hands.
  • Avoid kissing your child if you have cold symptoms.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke around your child.
  • Keep your child away from crowds.
  • If possible, keep your child away from other children, including siblings, with cold symptoms.
  • Clean and disinfect hard surfaces.

Treatment of RSV is based on your child's symptoms.