Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.
Hope Ring, MD, with Emerson Health Urgent Care often sees patients who have RSV. She answers questions about the illness and discusses when to see a healthcare provider and when to go to the emergency department.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
Symptoms of RSV infection typically include:
- Runny nose
- Decreased appetite
These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.
What are the best ways to care for someone at home with RSV?
There is no treatment for an RSV infection, though scientists are working to develop vaccines and medications to stop the infection. Here are steps you can take to relieve symptoms at home:
- Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to children.
- Drink fluids such as water, tea, and Gatorade. It is important for people with RSV to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
- Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child non-prescription cold medicines. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children.
When should I worry about RSV?
Most people who have RSV recover without medical treatment. However, some people, especially older adults and infants younger than six months, may need medical care. Call your physician or visit an urgent care center if you or your child have RSV along with asthma or congestive heart failure, or are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Signs of dehydration, including dizziness, not urinating regularly, dry mouth, lips, and eyes
- Fever that does not go down with medication
- Breathing that is louder or faster than usual
- Inability to drink well, or are too tired to eat, drink, or play normally
When should I go to the emergency department?
Go to the nearest emergency department if you or your child have the following symptoms:
- High fever (104 or greater) even after medication
- Breathing that is very rapid, or the air sucks in between your ribs, pushes out the belly, or your nostrils flair wider when you breathe
- Have stopped urinating or drinking
- Have trouble moving
When should I call 911?
Call 911 if you observe the following symptoms:
- Skin that is pale or blue-tinged (those with darker skin will show this most on their lips and fingernails)
- Breathing that is labored or starting to slow with fatigue
- Difficulty waking up
How can I prevent RSV?
You can catch RSV when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you and you get virus droplets in your eyes, nose, or mouth. You can also get RSV by touching a surface with the virus and then touching your face before washing your hands, or from kissing the face of a baby who has RSV.
Here are steps you can take to reduce the risk of RSV:
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Wear a mask in public to help reduce the spread of RSV, COVID, and flu.
To reserve a spot at Emerson Health Urgent Care, visit emersonurgentcare.org.