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LVHN Health Tips: What you need to know about RSV

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children have risen sharply across the country, leading to more hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Pediatric infectious diseases specialist Tibisay Villalobos, MD, and pediatric emergency medicine physician Teresa Romano, MD, both with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, share everything parents should know about RSV and what to do if your child becomes sick.

Is RSV dangerous?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all children will become infected with RSV by the time they’re 2 years old, with a majority only experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms, including:

• Coughing

• Decreased appetite

• Fever

• Headache

• Irritability or decreased activity

• Runny nose

• Sneezing

• Sore throat

• Wheezing

Children under 1-year-old and kids with chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease or a weakened immune system can develop bronchiolitis (an infection of the lungs’ small airways) or pneumonia (an infection of the lungs’ air sacs), resulting in hospitalization.

Why are cases of RSV so high right now?

Cases typically increase annually around October. However, they began rising in August this year.

“One reason for the surge could be how well we’ve protected ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic with masking and social distancing,” Villalobos says. “While these practices were very important, they have limited our kids’ exposure to all viruses, making them more likely to become sick with RSV.”

Can I prevent my child from getting RSV?

While there is no vaccine for RSV, there are a few preventive steps Villalobos and Romano recommend:

• Frequently wash your hands with soap and water (or hand sanitizer)

• Try not to touch your face

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick

• Cover your coughs and sneezes

• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects frequently touched

• Stay home when feeling unwell

What should I do if my child is showing symptoms of RSV?

Most children will completely recover from RSV within a week or two.

“If your child is experiencing mild symptoms, try nasal suctioning with saline before and after naps and before feeding as well as giving appropriate over-the-counter medications recommended by your child’s pediatrician,” says Romano.

Call your pediatrician if your child’s fever is:

• 3 months old or younger: 100.4°F or higher for any length of time

• Between 4 months and 2 years old: 100.4°F or higher for more than a day

• 2 years old or older: 100.4°F or higher for more than three days

Take them to an emergency room (like the Children’s Hospital’s Breidegam Family Children’s ER, the region’s only 24/7 emergency room specifically for kids) as soon as possible if they experience:

• Severe drowsiness or lack of alertness

• Severe cough

• Skin, lips or fingernails that appear blue

• Trouble breathing, severe wheezing or very fast breathing


Download Peds Partner, a free app from Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital.

Use the Symptom Checker to help you determine the next best steps for your child’s care and connect you with additional resources.

To learn more about RSV, visit LVHN.org/RSV.

RSV can be a serious issue for young children. Watch for signs and get help if needed. METROGRAPHICS