What Parents Need to Know About RSV

Currently, there is significant focus on COVID-19 and flu, however another respiratory virus, RSV, can be severe and even life-threatening to infants and toddlers. The American Lung Association, with support from Sanofi Pasteur, is engaging in an educational campaign to help educate expectant mothers, parents of infants and toddlers, and caregivers about the symptoms of RSV and the steps they can take to protect themselves and their children.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is so common that nearly 100% of children have been infected with the virus by age two. Severe RSV disease is unpredictable. Most people, including infants, develop only mild symptoms like a common cold but for some, it can progress to severe complications. In fact, RSV is the leading cause of hospitalizations in all infants. 

“Expectant mothers, parents and caregivers should be aware of the symptoms of RSV and know when they should contact their healthcare provider,” said Albert Rizzo, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for the Lung Association. “Typically, the peak season for RSV infection in the U.S. is fall through spring, however, we saw a rise in cases in the summer of 2021 that prompted a health advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People are taking fewer precautions as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and the virus is now spreading at an unusually high rate.”

RSV is spread from person to person through close contact with someone who is infected from coughing and sneezing or touching objects such as toys or doorknobs that have the virus on them. Symptoms of RSV include:

  • Mild cold symptoms, including congestion, runny nose, fever, cough and sore throat.
  • Very young infants may be irritable, fatigued and have breathing difficulties.
  • A barking or wheezing cough can be one of the first signs of a more serious illness.
  • Infants with severe RSV will have short, shallow and rapid breathing. This can be identified by "caving-in" of the chest in between the ribs and under the ribs (chest wall retractions), "spreading-out" of the nostrils with every breath (nasal flaring), and abnormally fast breathing. In addition, their mouth, lips and fingernails may turn a bluish color due to lack of oxygen.

When to Call Your Doctor: You should call your pediatrician if your child has poor appetite or decreased activity level, cold symptoms that become severe, or a shallow cough that continues throughout the day and night. Seek emergency care if your child is having trouble breathing.

“If you are in contact with an infant or young child, especially if they were born prematurely, are very young, have chronic lung or heart disease, a weakened immune system, or have neuromuscular disorders, you should take extra care to keep them healthy by washing hands, covering coughs or sneezes and staying home if you are sick,” Dr. Rizzo added.

For more information about the signs and symptoms of RSV, visit Lung.org/RSV.

For media seeking an interview with an RSV or lung health expert, contact Jill Dale at [email protected] or at 312-940-7001.

For more information, contact:

Jill Dale
[email protected]

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