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Protect your baby during the winter: Know the facts about RSV

Protect your baby during the winter: Know the facts about RSV

During the fall and winter seasons, it’s important to be aware of all the illnesses the cold weather brings, such as cold and flu. Often going undetected, but still a serious threat, is a common seasonal virus called Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV, which is the leading cause of infant hospitalization and affects nearly all babies by age two.

While every baby is at risk of contracting RSV, babies born prematurely – earlier than 37 weeks gestation – are at increased risk for developing severe RSV disease. Unfortunately, more than a half million babies in the U.S. are born prematurely each year, so it is important that parents are aware of the dangers that RSV presents to preemies. Despite being so common, many parents have never heard of RSV. In fact, one-third of mothers are unaware of the virus. It’s especially important that parents become educated on the signs and symptoms of RSV and ways to prevent the virus, because there currently is no treatment for RSV once it is contracted.


Do learn the facts about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

RSV is a common seasonal virus that causes approximately 125,000 hospitalizations and up to 400 infant deaths each year in the U.S. Also, RSV disease is responsible for 1 of every 13 pediatrician visits and 1 of every 38 trips to the E.R. in children under the age of five.

Do see if your baby is at high risk for RSV

In most healthy babies, RSV presents relatively mild symptoms and the virus runs its course within two weeks. Certain babies, however, are at an increased risk of developing a serious respiratory infection from RSV, especially babies born prematurely (born before 37 weeks gestational age) who have underdeveloped lungs and fewer antibodies to stave off the virus. Other common risk factors include low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, or weak immune systems.

Do know when RSV Season is

RSV occurs in epidemics, typically from November through March in most of the U.S., but the “RSV season” can vary by geography and from year to year. Ask your pediatrician when RSV is most prevalent in your area, and use this map to find out when the RSV season typically starts and ends in your region.

Do understand the symptoms

Symptoms of RSV often mimic the common cold, but parents should seek medical attention if their baby is experiencing: persistent coughing or wheezing; bluish color around the lips; rapid difficult or gasping breaths; or fever (especially if it is over 100.4°F in infants under 3 months of age).

Do talk to your pediatrician

Speak to your child’s pediatrician to determine if your baby is at high risk for RSV disease, and if so, what additional steps may be recommended.


Do not forget to wash your hands and ask others to do the same

Like the common-cold virus, RSV can be spread by sneezing and coughing or by physical contact such as kissing, touching, or shaking hands. Wash your hands frequently to help promote your health and prevent diseases to your children and those around you.

Do not forget to wash surfaces and your child’s toys, clothes, blanket and sheets

RSV can live up to 7 hours on countertops and other surfaces, and spreads very easily in daycare centers and crowded households. Wash surfaces with a disinfectant and also be sure to was your children’s toys, cloths, blankets and sheets.

Do not expose your infant to crowds and sick people, including young children, who may be sick during RSV season

If your baby was born prematurely, or has certain heart or lung conditions, then he or she may be at higher risk of developing severe RSV disease. Limiting the time that high-risk children spend in daycare centers or other potentially contagious settings may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season.

Do not smoke or let anyone smoke around your baby

Exposure to tobacco smoke and other air pollutants is a major risk factor for RSV associated with premature infants and underdeveloped lungs. Not only is it bad for your infant, it is bad for you.

Do not downplay symptoms of the common cold

As symptoms of RSV often mimic the common cold, if your baby is presenting any of these symptoms, when in doubt go see your pediatrician, especially if your baby is considered at high risk.

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Speak to your child’s pediatrician to determine if your baby is at high risk for RSV disease, and if so, what additional steps may be recommended. For more information about the risk factors for RSV and for tips on how to talk to your doctor, visit

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Photo Credits: Baby by Flickr: M Glasgow; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Paul A. Checchia, M.D., F.A.A.P., F.C.C.M., F.A.C.C.Professor of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Medical Director of Pediatric Cardiovascular Inten

Paul Checchia, M.D., serves as Medical Director of the Pediatric Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Additionally, he is Professor of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He spec...

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