Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN
Fall is in the air! Along with fall and winter comes flu and cold season. While most kids only become mildly ill with bugs, a few viruses can become severe. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of those viruses that can cause severe problems in little ones.
What Parents Need to Know As RSV Season Kicks Off
If you are a parent or caregiver, you have probably heard about RSV. While RSV can make parents nervous, there are several steps you can take at home to keep your little one comfortable. Here, we break down what parents need to know about RSV as RSV season kicks off so you can feel prepared to help your little one feel better!
What is RSV?
RSV is a respiratory virus that infects most kids before they are two years old, per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Both kids and adults will likely experience an RSV infection several times throughout their lives. However, RSV will feel like a common cold for most older kids and adults. The first RSV infection is typically the most severe, and subsequent infections are less problematic.
It’s spread like the common cold, too, per the AAP. You can catch RSV by coming into contact with an infected person’s saliva, mucus, or nasal discharge. For example, your little one may have a friend who only has sniffles and is out playing but actually has RSV and sneezes on your child. Your child could then become sick with RSV.
While RSV is typically mild in most older kids and adults, it can cause worse illness in those with underlying health conditions. One example is asthma. If you or your child has asthma and catches RSV, it could trigger more asthma attacks.
For infants under one, the AAP explains that RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in that age group. In fact, for every 100 babies who catch RSV and are under a year old, 2 to 3 will need to be hospitalized. These babies may need treatment such as help breathing, oxygen, and fluids.
Symptoms of RSV
Seattle Children’s explains that RSV season is generally considered to be December through April, with February and March having the highest rates of infections. However, infections can happen outside of RSV season.
Many symptoms of RSV are similar to those of the common cold and include:
- Runny nose
- Poor feeding
- General fussiness
More severe signs of RSV are increased work breathing and a blue tint to the nails or lips. Fortunately, there is a simple nasal swab test for RSV through a healthcare provider. Other respiratory bugs can also be tested for at the same time, too.
Treating RSV at Home
You can take several measures at home to help comfort your little one. Nemours KidsHealth explains that you can allow your child plenty of rest and fluids. Since your child may not drink well when they feel sick, you can offer small amounts of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Other steps you can take are a cool-mist humidifier that’s cleaned daily, saline and a nasal aspiration to clear out their little nose, and fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen (aka TylenolⓇ) and ibuprofen (aka MotrinⓇ), depending on your child’s age and instructions from your medical provider.
If you have an infant, try to time nasal aspiration with feeds so your little nose-breathing baby can eat their food more efficiently. And if you haven’t already tried the NozeBot, consider adding this essential tool to your first aid kit before RSV season. It makes clearing your little one’s nose much easier!
If at any point you’re worried about your baby, it is always appropriate to seek the advice of a medical professional. Other reasons to seek medical care include, but are not limited to, any of the following, according to Seattle Children’s:
- Young infant eight weeks and under with a fever (100.4Ⓕ or greater)
- A fever of 104Ⓕ or greater
- Lethargic or hard to arouse
- Dehydrated (dry mouth, no tears when crying, fewer wet diapers)
- Breathing faster or harder
- Has another health condition and RSV
Situations that are an emergency and require a visit to the emergency department or 911 call include any signs or symptoms of difficulty breathing. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Flaring nostrils
- Blue tinge to lips or nail beds
- Retractions (looks like skin getting drawn in over or under the ribs when the baby breaths)
- Fast breathing
These lists are not exhaustive. If you are concerned about your child, contact a medical provider for advice or take your child in to be seen. One of the main risk factors with RSV is the increased work to breathe it can cause in infants. If in doubt, have your child evaluated and treated as necessary.
For the most part, becoming sick with RSV during RSV season is inevitable. However, preventing infection through your baby’s first year of life may significantly decrease their risk of developing asthma.
Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), infants who did not experience an RSV infection during their first year of life were 26% less likely to develop asthma by age five than their peers who did experience an RSV infection early on.
Ways to prevent RSV include basics such as washing hands regularly and cleaning high-touch surfaces. You can also ask friends and family not to kiss your baby and to stay home if they are ill. And if your baby has older siblings, do your best to help teach your older children to stay away from the baby if they are sick (including a runny nose), not put their fingers in their sibling's mouths, and wash their hands when they come home from school.
Another way to prevent RSV is through one of the two shots that exist to help prevent RSV. The AAP explains these two shots are both monoclonal antibodies. One, palivizumab, is given monthly to high-risk children under two years of age during RSV season.
The other, nirsevimab, is new and widely available for the first time during the 2023-2024 RSV season. Unlike palivizumab, the new monoclonal antibody is available and recommended for all babies under eight months of age. Those between 8-19 months of age and considered high-risk may also be eligible for nirsevimab.
The benefit of nirsevimab is that it is just one shot for the entire season and is available to all. The hope is that it dramatically decreases the number of babies sick every year with RSV.
Looking for more tips on caring for sick kids? You’ll find these helpful:
- How To Handle Breastfeeding When Sick
- How to Keep Your Newborn Healthy When You Have a Sick Child or Parent at Home
- Work From Home Tips For Parents With A Sick Kid
- Is It RSV, Flu, COVID-19, or a Cold?
- 10 Things to Do When You Come Home From The Hospital With RSV
RSV can be frightening. No one likes to see their child sick, and RSV can be especially scary since it can significantly affect your child’s ability to breathe. However, understanding what RSV is, the signs and symptoms, treatment, and prevention are all essential need-to-know information as the RSV season kicks off.
So, if your infant gets ill this year during RSV season and you suspect RSV, do your best to help them be comfortable at home. Illness during cold and flu season definitely calls for extra snuggle time! And, if you notice any signs or symptoms that point to difficulty breathing, your baby is a newborn with a fever, or you’re concerned, reach out to a healthcare provider for advice.
Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.
The NozeBot can ease your stress of RSV season
The Nozebot is a battery-powered suction device designed to clear nasal congestion in babies and children.