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RSV Cases on the Rise

Posted on Nov 02, 2022

A photo of a child receiving care in a hospital for RSV.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases are on the rise nationally. In fact, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital saw 350-plus cases in September and October combined. While RSV is typically seen in the winter months, viral seasons seem to have shifted around likely due to COVID-19. Infectious diseases physician Juan Dumois, M.D., helps families understand how to prevent RSV, what the symptoms are, when to seek treatment and how milder cases of RSV can be treated at home.

What is RSV?

RSV is a virus affecting the lungs, respiratory system and breathing. It is highly contagious and spreads through droplets or contaminated surfaces. It can be particularly serious in newborns, those with asthma, lung issues and children under 5 years old. A doctor will typically conduct a nasal swab test to determine if your child is positive for RSV, but it’s important to look for symptoms, including:

  • Congested and/or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough and/or shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting (when coughing)

When to See the Pediatrician or Visit Emergency Center for RSV

While most cases of RSV can be treated at home with regular cold medicine, some cases can be serious and develop into bronchiolitis or pneumonia. If your child has any of the following symptoms you should contact your pediatrician or bring them to the Emergency Center immediately:

  • Fast, labored breathing (if ribs look like they are sucking in)
  • Dehydration (dry mouth, decrease of wet diapers)
  • Blue skin/discolored lips/nails, which may indicate low oxygen levels
  • Symptoms worsen or do not improve after 10 days

How to Treat RSV at Home

If your child seems to have a mild case of RSV or any other common cold, there are a few things you can do:

  • Keep your child hydrated (electrolyte drinks)
  • Suction their nose with saline solution to help with congestion
  • Use pain relievers like acetaminophen, if needed and if encouraged by pediatrician

Preventing RSV and Other Viruses and Infections

With all viruses and bacterial infections, it is important to wash hands for at least 20 seconds often. You can wear a mask, especially around others who may be sick or in crowded areas.

Because the symptoms of RSV can be the same as COVID-19 and flu, it is also encouraged to have families vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu. Children 6 months of age and older may get the COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and for children under 6 months of age it is even more important to give the COVID-19 and flu vaccine to all the adults who will be caring for them.

Learn more about preventing COVID-19, colds and flu infections.

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