McFarland Clinic

RSV: Knowing When to Call the Doctor

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January 8, 2019

RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, is a respiratory virus that leads to symptoms similar to a bad cold and is especially common among children, affecting the eyes, lungs, throat, and nose. RSV is also extremely contagious – most children will have it at least once by their second birthday.

An RSV infection typically runs its course within 10 days and usually isn’t something for parents to be worried about; however, complications from RSV can be more severe, especially in very young children, and can lead to pneumonia and bronchiolitis – sometimes the illness can even require hospitalization.

If your child is exhibiting regular cold-like symptoms, the best thing to do is keep him or her home from school or daycare throughout the progression of the illness to keep it from spreading to others. At-home treatment would include controlling the fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and taking measures to improve your child’s ability to breathe.

With the potential for the illness to lead to hospitalization in young patients, however, it’s important to know when to take your child to the doctor if the illness progresses.

McFarland Clinic Pediatricians recommend the following criteria for seeking medical attention when your child exhibits cold-like symptoms:

  • Under two months: a fever greater than 100.4°, poor feeding, vomiting, a respiratory rate greater than 60 breaths per minute (BPM), labored breathing, lethargic or inconsolable
  • Two to six months: a fever greater than 100.4° for more than 72 hours, poor feeding, vomiting, a respiratory rate greater than 50 BPM, labored breathing, lethargic or inconsolable
  • Six months to two years: a fever greater than 100.4° for more than 72 hours, poor oral intake causing no urine in at least eight hours, persistent vomiting that lasts longer than eight hours, a respiratory rate greater than 40 BPM; when the fever is down to normal, child remains very fussy/in pain with no improvement in the symptom(s) after taking Tylenol
  • Older than two years: a fever greater than 100.4° for more than 72 hours, poor oral intake causing no urine in at least 12 hours, persistent vomiting that lasts longer than 12 hours or with coughing, chest pain, a respiratory rate greater than 40 when the fever is down, chest pain or ear pain

Parents hoping to keep their children healthy can practice the basic disease prevention tactics: getting enough sleep, eating healthy, getting an adequate amount of Vitamin D3, and washing hands. 

Since it’s easy for adults to contract RSV and pass the virus on to infants and children – who are likely to get a more serious version of the illness – it’s best for parents to avoid having their children in contact with any adult or child who is ill.

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