American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Avoiding RSV Outbreaks in Your Family

The combination of a fever, cough and shortness of breath typically conjures thoughts of the flu. However, these could also be symptoms of the lesser known RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a major cause of respiratory illness and lung infections in children.

While most people recover from an RSV infection within one to two weeks, infection can be severe in older adults, premature babies and children with weak immune systems. 

This viral infection can lead to croup, ear infections, lung failure, pneumonia and, in severe infant cases, death.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms vary with age and differ in severity, from mild cold-like symptoms in older children and adults to severe complications in premature babies and kids with pre-existing diseases that affect the lungs, heart or immune system. 

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Respiratory illness caused by RSV typically lasts about a week or several weeks in some casesJames E. Foy, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician, recommends parents monitor their children closely for these RSV symptoms:

  • Bluish skin or nail color due to a lack of oxygen.

  • Labored or rapid breathing.

  • A worsening cough that produces yellow, green or gray mucus.

  • Fever or irritability.

  • Refusal to feed or persistent vomiting.

Parents of newborns will need to be astute observers of their baby’s behavior. Dr. Foy says to watch for changes in breathing patterns, unusual irritability, reduced activity, or a sudden refusal to breastfeed or bottle-feed.

"Consulting a physician in the early stages of the illness is the key to preventing serious complications,” advises Dr. Foy.

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well.

Preventing the Spread of RSV

The virus can live on hands and clothing for around a half an hour and on surfaces for a couple hours. 

To avoid mini-outbreaks and transmission of the virus, Dr. Foy stresses the following precautions:

  • Washing hands often, especially before coming into contact with babies.

  • Keeping children who are sick home and away from younger children, especially infants.

  • Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough.


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