Health Report: Your Baby’s Health – When it’s More than Just a Cold, It Could be RSV

The flu season continues in San Diego County and if you are a new parent you are probably monitoring your little one for any signs or symptoms of the common cold or flu.

But did you know there is a similar and even more common virus called RSV or respiratory syncytial virus that can easily be spread and is a major cause of respiratory illness among young children?

“RSV is highly contagious and can be easily spread when a person has close contact with someone who is coughing or sneezing or by touching surfaces of objects that were handled by a sick person,” said Michelle Dern, M.D., pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center, Encinitas.

Babies often get it when older children bring the virus home from school or childcare centers and pass it to them.

Most cases of RSV, which causes infection of the lungs and breathing passage, are mild, but among infants, an RSV infection can be more serious and may require hospitalization. Each year on average, RSV leads to 57,527 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In San Diego, 324 children have been diagnosed with RSV and required hospitalization since October, which is down from the same period last year when the number of cases began to spike earlier,  according to statistics from Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego,

“The number of recorded cases is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Dern said. “There are many more cases diagnosed every day in doctor’s offices that are not counted in those numbers.”

Here’s how to prevent and treat RSV in infants:

Prevention: Wash your hands after having any contact with someone who has cold symptoms. Also keep your school-age children with a cold away from younger siblings, especially infants, until the symptoms pass.

If your child is healthy but needs to see his or her pediatrician for a wellness check, try to minimize the risks of exposing your child to infections and illnesses.

“Try to schedule the first appointment of the day. This is when the office is likely to be the cleanest and least crowded with other kids and parents,” Dr. Dern said.

Early appointments in general are an especially good idea if you have a newborn who has been in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or a child who is fragile or tends to get sick easily.

Treatment: Since it is a viral illness, antibiotics are not needed or helpful unless there is a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia or ear infection.

Home care: At home, make your child with RSV as comfortable as possible, allow time for recovery and provide plenty of liquids. Use non-aspirin fever medicine like acetaminophen to treat fevers.

“To help your child breathe easier, use a cool-mist humidifier to keep the air moist. Winter air can dry out airways and make the mucus thicker,” Dr. Dern said. “If your child is too young to blow his or her own nose, use saline nasal spray and suction with a nasal aspirator or bulb suction to remove the nasal fluids.”

When to seek medical care:

  • High Fever (100.4 for babies under one month old; for others, it’s 104 and lasting more than five days).
  • Worsening cough
  • Poor feeding or signs of dehydration such as reduced wet diapers.
  • Labored or fast breathing
  • Go to ER or call 911 if skin color is very pale or bluish.

Hospitalization is required when an infant needs to be watched closely or when he or she requires fluids or possible treatment for breathing problems.

For more information about Scripps Health, visit or call 858-240-5075.

Categories: Health