Your quick guide to respiratory syncytial virus.
by Sudeep Kukreja, M.D.
Q: What is RSV?
A: Respiratory syncytial virus is very common. It causes mild cold-like symptoms, like runny nose and fever, in adults and children. But premature babies or babies with lung or heart problems have a high risk of getting very sick if they catch RSV. This is because premature babies do not have fully developed lungs. Also, because they were born early, they may not have received virus-fighting substances (called antibodies) from their mothers that help them fight off RSV and other viruses. RSV season usually starts in the fall and runs through the spring.
Q: How can I keep my baby from getting RSV?
A: Following are some ways you can help prevent the spread of RSV:
- Wash your hands before touching your baby, and ask others to do the same.
- Keep your baby away from crowds and people with colds.
- Do not smoke near your baby. (Exposure to tobacco smoke increases the risk of RSV.)
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Q: If my baby has RSV, when should I worry?
A: Symptoms of RSV usually last between seven and 14 days. Most babies with RSV do not become seriously ill. However, in some babies, symptoms can quickly get worse, and they may need to be treated in the hospital with oxygen and IV fluids.
Any of these symptoms requires immediate medical attention:
- Rapid breathing
- Problems breathing, or gasping breath
- Blue color of the lips or around the mouth
SUDEEP KUKREJA, M.D., is a board-certified staff neonatologist with Children's Hospital of Orange County in California.
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Last updated and/or approved: May 2012. Original article appeared in a previous issue of the former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.