Cold, Flu and RSV

RSV Cold, Flu and RSV Season!

As we gear up for cooler days and nights, we also brace ourselves for the onset of cold and flu season, and all the sniffles and coughs it’s sure to bring.
During this time of year, most parents are especially diligent in recognizing signs or symptoms that might mean that their little one has the common cold or influenza, also known as the flu. There is a similar and even more common virus, however, that parents should also be aware of called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization of children under the age of one and will affect virtually every child by age two.

What is RSV?

RSV symptoms are similar to the common cold or flu. RSV infects the upper respiratory system and is responsible for one of every 13 visits to a pediatrician, and one of every 38 emergency room trips for children up to the age of 5.

All babies are at risk for contracting RSV, particularly within the first six months of life, but babies born premature (earlier than 37 weeks gestational age) are especially vulnerable to a more serious case of RSV because they have underdeveloped lungs and less vital antibodies needed to fight off infections. Babies who have low birth weight (less than 5½ pounds), are in frequent contact with other children (such as older siblings or at daycare), have a family history of asthma, or are exposed to tobacco smoke are also at a higher risk for contracting RSV.

In addition, babies suffering from lung disease, heart disease or immune deficiencies should be watched more closely for a longer period of time because RSV can lead to more severe lower respiratory tract infections, including bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

How do I know if my child has RSV and what can I do?

So what are some of the signs your baby may have RSV other than cold-like symptoms like a runny nose or a low fever? More severe RSV symptoms include a severe cough, persistent wheezing or difficulty breathing. Possible signs of a more serious infection that may require a trip to the emergency room include apnea (if the baby stops breathing for more than 10 seconds), high fever, turning blue, rapid breathing, difficulty feeding and fatigue. Just as you would for the cold or flu, it’s important that you consult your doctor whenever you are concerned.

Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics don’t help. But there are steps you can take to better safeguard your child from RSV. RSV lives in tissues and on surfaces, like countertops, for up to several hours and is easily transferred through direct contact. It is important to keep other children and adults who have coughs, colds or are sneezing away from your baby. You can also help prevent the spread of RSV by frequently cleaning your baby’s bedding, toys and personal items and asking that anyone who touches your baby to wash their hands or use antibacterial gels.

Parents know their children best so always trust your instincts. Take the necessary precautions to keep your family healthy and always consult a physician when you think something is wrong with your child. Practicing these simple steps could possibly prevent your baby from getting severely ill during the winter months.

Quick facts about RSV:

RSV will affect most children by the age of 2 and poses similar symptoms as the common cold

RSV is the leading cause of hospitilization of children under the age of one

If babies fall ill from RSV, consult your child's healthcare provider with any concerns.

William P. Hitchcock, MD, is a pediatrician with La Costa Pediatrics in Carlsbad, CA.

Looking for information on H1N1 or seasonal flu?

Experts from UC San Diego School of Medicine are available at the click of a mouse. Visit to view three videos about the 2009 seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu.


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