RSV—respiratory syncytial virus—is a common, highly contagious virus that most American children will be infected with before the age of two. In most children, the virus causes no symptoms or cold-like symptoms and no other complications.
Children younger than two with compromised immune systems or young children with congenital heart or chronic lung disease as well as premature infants are most at risk for severe cases of RSV.
“Unless an older child or adult has severe immune issues, RSV is either mild or without symptoms,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases said. Young children who become very short of breath should see a doctor, Dr. Dowell said.
RSV can occur year-round, but is more common in fall and early winter. The virus is a common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, inflammation of airways in the lungs, in American children younger than one year old. Severe cases may require hospitalization, but Dr. Dowell said a hospitalization is rare and usually only requires a short stay
The majority of healthy people suffering from an RSV infection will recover in one to two weeks.
People infected with RSV may suffer from cold-like symptoms such as running a fever, coughing, and sneezing. Young infants may show signs of breathing difficulty, lethargy, and irritability.
“RSV spreads within schools and families easily,” Dr. Dowell said. Prevention includes thoroughly washing hands and regularly cleaning toys that young children come in contact with as well as avoiding people who are experiencing cold symptoms.