Symptoms of RSV and How to Treat It

This lower respiratory infection can lead to hospitalization among infants and young children. A pediatrician with Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center offers insight.

During cold and flu season, there is another ailment that can cause some serious problems for children. It’s known as RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, and this lower respiratory infection impacts children of all ages – and even adults.

“It’s one of the most common reasons for hospitalization in children younger than 5, probably only second to the flu,” says Dr. Salvatore Ventimiglia, a pediatrician at Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, located in Shelby Township and Troy.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one to two out of every 100 children younger than 6 months who have RSV will need to be hospitalized.

The virus is spread through droplets from coughing and sneezing, which enter the body through the nose, mouth and sometimes the eyes (as some children may rub their eyes with a hand that is contaminated with someone else’s germs).

Crowded places, along with day care and school, are common spots kids can become infected with RSV.

So, what are the signs to watch for and what can you do to help stop the spread? Dr. Ventimiglia offers advice.

Symptoms of RSV

When it comes to symptoms, the severity tends to vary by age, he notes.

Cough, nasal congestion, runny nose and wheezing are common signs of RSV, but there are some more worrisome symptoms to keep an eye out for, too. If a child’s breathing is getting fast to the point where parents can see the outline of the rib cage, or if a child isn’t eating well or is refusing feedings, coughing through feedings or has a high fever, call your child’s pediatrician immediately.

“The worst of the symptoms are usually between days three and five,” Dr. Ventimiglia says. “That’s when I want to keep a close watch on them.”

Some children, like those with chronic heart or lung diseases, those who were born prematurely, those with Down syndrome and children under 6 months of age, are at a higher risk of developing RSV.

“We worry most about preemies. As we’re doing a great job in helping preemies survive and thrive, they still have underdeveloped lungs and this tends to be quite a worry that we have,” he says.

Prevention and treatment

Unlike the flu, which children can be vaccinated for and is often treated with an antiviral medication, there is no vaccine or antiviral medication for RSV.

“It’s mainly supportive care,” Dr. Ventimiglia says.” “If they need supplemental oxygen, we give them supplemental oxygen.”

Otherwise, parents should try to clear their child’s nose and use a humidifier to get mucus to move along. In some cases, for roughly a third of patients, Albuterol – often used for children with asthma – may be given to a child with RSV, Dr. Ventimiglia says. Immune globulin can also be utilized for children who are at a higher risk, such as preemies and those with underlying health issues.

“We give it once a month during the flu season,” he says. “It’s a commitment to your child to getting a shot once a month, but it really can help to avoid some potential (of illness).”

To avoid the spread of RSV, families should be extra diligent with hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding close contact with people and staying home, if needed.

For more information on Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, visit


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