Image of mom holding her infant who is feeling symptoms of RSV

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that can cause infections in the nose, throat, lungs and respiratory tract. Almost all children are infected with RSV by age 2, and re-infections are common at all ages.

RSV is a leading cause of hospitalization in infants. Cases of RSV are on the rise and pediatric hospitals are starting to see more patients needing care. If your child needs emergency care, it may be helpful to check your local hospital wait times as you consider your options for care.

RSV Prevention Program – Now Available

For the first time, there are multiple ways to protect infants from this potentially fatal virus during RSV season.

RSV Antibody Treatment for Infants

Nirsevimab is a newly-approved, one-time injection that provides immediate protection to infants 0 to 8 months old and reduces risk of RSV-related hospitalization by 70%.

All infants born at Comer Children’s and Ingalls Memorial during RSV season will be offered this injection. Infants less that 8 months old at the start of RSV season can receive nirsevimab at UChicago Medicine’s pediatric and family medicine outpatient offices, although availability may be limited initially. These injections can be administered with other routine childhood immunizations.

Contact your Child’s Pediatrician

RSV Vaccine for Pregnant People

The newly-approved maternal RSV vaccine, Abrysvo, can be given to pregnant people between 32-36 weeks’ gestation. Babies born at least 2 months after their birthing parent receives this vaccination have their risk of severe RSV disease reduced by 80%.

RSV Vaccines for Adults 60 years and older

Individuals 60 and older may receive a single dose of one of two new RSV vaccines (Arexvy and Abrysvo) via shared decision-making with a health care provider. Older adults and infants can often be at a heightened risk for severe illness, so vaccination is a crucial way to keep those around you safe.

Contact your Doctor

What Parents and Caregivers Need to Know About RSV

Common symptoms for RSV include:

  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever

Most people will only experience mild symptoms and recover after one to two weeks. However, symptoms can be more severe for high-risk individuals, including:

  • Very young children
  • Older adults
  • Anyone with chronic health problems

For premature babies, infants 6 months or younger and children with weakened immune symptoms, RSV infection can lead to severe illness including bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Symptoms of RSV in infants, younger than 6 months old, may include:

  • A lack of hunger and activity
  • Irritability
  • Breathing problems

RSV symptoms can be very similar to other contagious respiratory viruses. An RSV infection can often look very similar to a common cold, in particular. RSV infection can come in stages, so be on the lookout if symptoms worsen. This is a sign that you should contact a health care provider.

The virus is highly contagious and can spread in a variety of ways, including:

  • Droplets from a sneeze or cough of an infected person coming into contact with your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Touching a surface (like a counter) that is contaminated with the virus
  • Making direct contact with the virus (such as kissing a loved one who has RSV)

Thankfully, there are very important measures you can take to minimize the spread of RSV.

In addition to the vaccines and injections mentioned above, you can avoid spreading RSV if you:

  • Practice proper hand hygiene and wash your hands regularly.
  • Stay home when you have symptoms and avoid close contact with others if either of you are infected.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes and dispose of used tissues right away.
  • Disinfect hard surfaces that are used often, especially if they have been touched by someone who's feeling sick.
  • Avoid touching your face.

Similar to many other respiratory viruses, there is no specific treatment for managing the symptoms of an RSV infection. Over-the-counter (OTC) fever and pain medication may be suitable for mild symptoms, but make sure to confirm that the product is safe for kids before giving it your child. Your child’s doctor can help identify safe medications and dosage. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

If symptoms start to worsen, your child’s healthcare provider can discuss the appropriate treatment. Children, especially young infants, may need to be hospitalized while they receive oxygen support and/or intravenous fluids to stay hydrated.

Symptoms of RSV usually go away after one to two weeks. Researchers are currently working on new medications and vaccines to aid in the fight against the virus.

SYNAGIS is a humanized monoclonal antibody that can help prevent hospitalization for children who are at high risk for severe RSV symptoms.

These monthly injections provide key antibodies that fight infection for at-risk groups, such as former premature infants and babies with certain lung and heart conditions.

Infants who qualify for SYNAGIS also qualify for the new preventative treatment nirsevimab. Infants at risk for severe RSV diseases who qualify for SYNAGIS this year and have gotten a dose can safely get nirsevimab and do not need any more doses off Synagis after that.

Contact your child’s physician if you would like to learn more about SYNAGIS or nirsevimab.

If you or your child are experiencing any RSV or cold-like symptoms:

  • Stay home from school or call in sick from work until you recover.
  • Social distance and avoid close contact with others.
  • Place extra emphasis on all of the prevention tips above.
  • Contact a healthcare provider if symptoms worsen.

You should contact your child’s doctor immediately if you see any signs of the following severe symptoms:

  • Wheezing, rapid breathing, nostril flaring or the head bobbing while breathing (These may be signs of bronchiolitis.)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A major decline in activity
  • Dehydration
  • Lips, skin or tongue turning blue or gray

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