Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common, and very contagious, virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday.


For most babies and young children, the infection causes nothing more than a cold. But for a small percentage, infection with RSV can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening problems such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways of the lungs.


APPOTEK can help you with RSV.


Respiratory syncytial virus enters the body through the eyes, nose or mouth. It spreads easily through the air on infected respiratory droplets. You or your child can become infected if someone with RSV coughs or sneezes near you. The virus also passes to others through direct contact, such as shaking hands.


The incubation period is 3–6 days.


The chance of a severe infection is highest for:


  • Babies born prematurely
  • Children younger than 2 who were born with heart or lung disease
  • Infants and young children whose immune systems are weakened because of illness or medical treatment
  • Children under 8 to 10 weeks old


Initial signs of RSV are similar to mild cold symptoms, including congestion, runny nose, fever, cough and sore throat. Very young infants may be irritable, fatigued and have breathing difficulties. Normally these symptoms will clear up on their own in a few days. But children may cough for several weeks before the disease passes.


A barking or wheezing cough can be one of the first signs of a more serious illness. In these instances, the virus has spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing inflammation of the small airways entering the lungs. This can lead to pneumonia or broncihtis.


RSV is often mentioned in connection with infants. This is because young children can occasionally become seriously ill with severe respiratory illness requiring hospitalization. The virus causes the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract to swell to form thick, tough mucus that is located in the nose and trachea. Respiratory difficulties are caused by mucus plugging of the airways. 


Because the infant’s respiratory tract is so small, a tiny swelling is enough to cause them to have respiratory problems. A lot of energy is consumed when the child is trying to breathe. This causes the child to become very tired and almost unable to eat. 


Other symptoms of severs RSV in infants include wheezing and short, shallow and rapid breathing. This can be identified by “caving-in” of the chest in between the ribs and under the ribs (chest wall retractions), “spreading-out” of the nostrils with every breath (nasal flaring), and abnormally fast breathing. In addition, their mouth, lips and fingernails may turn a bluish color due to lack of oxygen.

Prevention and protection

RSV is most common in winter. To avoid the infection, wash your hands carefully and frequently. Keep yourself and your child away from people who are cold and avoid large crowds.


There is no treatment to cure the infection, but you can relieve the symptoms. It is important to get enough fluid to avoid dehydration. To get rid of the mucus in the nose, you can use a nasal spray with saline solution for infants. It is possible to reduce swelling and make it easier for the child to breathe if they can sleep in a more upright position. 


RSV in adults usually requires no treatment. 


Infants may need hospital care to get help with breathing.

When to consult a doctor

RSV can get serious very quickly. Get immediate medical help if a child younger than six months suffers from severe coughing and / or respiratory distress,  (wheezing or coughing, fast breathing, blue or gray skin color) or if the child shows signs of fluid deficiency and is lethargic. It is critical not to hesitate but see a doctor immediately in such cases.

How APPOTEK can help

APPOTEK can help you with RSV. A nurse or doctor can make an individual assessment based on your symptoms, then may prescribe treatment or refer you for further examination. But be aware that with RSV in infants, in particular with any signs of respiratory distress, you should go immediately to a hospital for emergency care.


Valeria Chernikova, Neurologist, M.D.