This year, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has created a particularly challenging situation for kids, families and healthcare providers, who have had to contend with “tridemic” of RSV, the flu and COVID-19. Hospitals and neonatal intensive care units across the state have come up against more pediatric hospitalizations for RSV than ever before, and we know that this has left parents with young children scared, concerned and unsure about what RSV means for their family. Below, Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatricians and neonatologists Kathleen Hannan, MD, and Stephanie Bourque, MD, share their answers to some of the most common RSV-related questions they hear.
How contagious is RSV? If one child in the house gets RSV, is it possible to protect siblings?
RSV is spread through contact with droplets from the nose and mouth of infected people when they cough and sneeze. RSV can also spread through dried respiratory secretions on clothes and similar items and can remain on hard surfaces for several hours and on skin for shorter amounts of time. Washing hands and staying away from those who are feeling sick is the best way to prevent the spread. Teach older siblings not to touch baby’s face or hands and instead connect in another way, such as “feet hugs.” While it might not always be possible to fully prevent RSV from spreading in your home, older children typically handle RSV better than young infants and babies.
Should my child be tested for RSV?
While tests are available for RSV, they are primarily limited to children in the emergency room or hospital. Testing for RSV does not change how we treat infected infants and children. The best ways to manage RSV are through supportive care, which includes fluids, suctioning as needed, treating fever and getting plenty of rest. There are other illnesses that may present similar to RSV, including strep throat and influenza. Your pediatrician may test your child for these or other illnesses to help guide appropriate therapy and medications.
How do you safely allow for social interaction with other kids during the respiratory season?
This is really challenging, especially during the past few years with pandemic isolation and decreased socialization for young children. When possible, meet friends or playgroups in well-ventilated areas or outside at parks. Continue honest conversations with other parents about sick symptoms in your household to make the most informed decision. If anyone is feeling under the weather, reschedule for another day.
Should we expect RSV to be this serious every year?
We are likely seeing increased numbers of RSV cases this year as a significant number of children have never been infected with RSV before. Typically, children ages 0 to 2 are at the highest risk of contracting RSV, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many older preschoolers and school-age children were not exposed to RSV due to social distancing, mask wearing, and decreased enrollment in daycares and preschools. The good news is that experts are researching new ways to protect infants and young children from RSV. New RSV monoclonal antibodies being studied will likely be available to more infants, including those born at term. Additionally, a promising new vaccine has been developed that would be given during the second or third trimester of pregnancy and is designed to provide immunity to newborn infants for the first several months of life. Neither of these new therapies are available quite yet, but parents and pediatricians are hopeful they will help decrease the risk of serious disease and hospitalization in young children.
And remember, always consult with your pediatrician for specific questions or concerns about your child’s health.
- If you are seeking assistance or care, please call your primary care provider or the Children’s Hospital Colorado ParentSmart Healthline™ at 720-777-0123, to receive tips from registered, experienced pediatric nurses, available 24/7.
- Caregivers can also use the free ChildrensMD mobile app to access care guides to help make smart decisions on what level of care (if any) is needed and how to provide speedy symptom relief for minor illnesses or injuries you can manage on your own.
- Symptoms of respiratory viruses can be similar. Read our expert guide on how to spot the subtle differences between RSV, flu, COVID-19 and other illnesses.