We know that it can be very stressful hearing news reports about the new “epidemic” of RSV affecting children right now, so we wanted to reach out to give some perspective. RSV is a very common virus, and it has always been an infection that families and pediatricians need to manage in the winter. We had a 2 year break from RSV during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now that our kids have gotten back to normal childhood (and this is a good thing!), we also have to get back to expecting all the normal childhood illnesses.
What is RSV? Otherwise known as “Respiratory Syncytial Virus”, it is a congestion and cough virus that has historically circulated in winter months (November to April). Perhaps the only thing unique about RSV right now is that it started in September and October – a little earlier than normal. For most children (and adults), it is a bad cold – sometimes fever, lots of congestion, and a cough that can linger for 2-4 weeks in some cases. For a small percentage of infants and young children, the virus can settle in the lungs and cause a worse cough with wheezing. And a small number of these kids may need additional supports in a hospital setting (such as mechanical nasal suction and extra oxygen). One important key is that we worry about RSV more in kids under 4 y/o, especially under 2 y/o. In older children, RSV most often presents with symptoms like a normal cold. In general, RSV will most often just run its course like ANY cold virus for most kids.
When do I need to worry? It is helpful to know that the illness peaks around day 4-6, so these are the days to be most cautious. The good news is that as a parent, all you really need to monitor RSV illness are your senses. Observe your child’s bare chest and watch for increased respiratory rate and if they are using their rib muscles or abdominal muscles to help them breathe. As with any illness, keeping your child hydrated is essential. Remember that babies need to be able to breathe through their nose to eat and sleep, so you will need to use some kind of nasal suction (like a bulb syringe or nose frieda) to help them. Older kids (especially those with asthma) can also have trouble with wheezing, but this will manifest in the same way – increased respiratory rate and use of chest and abdominal muscles for breathing.
What should I do if I am worried? Call us! Unless you think your child is in imminent danger and you need to call an ambulance, please call us first (303-830-7337). If it is during business hours, we can either give advice or schedule an appointment if needed, and if it is after hours, we have nurse triage with physician back-up ready to help.
What about schools/daycare? This virus tends to linger longer than most, so it may be that your child will be home longer than with other colds. It is important to note that we do NOT test (and we have never tested) for RSV because it does not change what we do – we manage the symptoms. Schools and daycares should NOT be asking for testing for RSV.
We hope this helps. Remember you can always call us if you have questions or concerns about your child.
Dr. Jay, Dr. Mary, Dr. Spero, Dr. Erin, Dr. Debbie, Dr. Liz, Dr. Katie, and Dr. Lauren