Caring for a Child with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

November 12, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a very common virus that causes infection in the lungs and upper respiratory tract. In most people, particularly older children and adults, the symptoms are mild and require minimal treatment. RSV can cause far more severe symptoms in others, including younger children, older people, and those with a compromised immune system.

Since RSV can be a severe illness for younger children and babies, particularly infants under the age of 12 months, it is important to know how to care for this group of clients. You should always get an accurate diagnosis from a physician for RSV and closely follow their care directions. The following information can help you be more educated and work more closely with medical professionals if you are caring for a child with RSV.

Healthy adults and infants that become infected with RSV do not usually need to be hospitalized. However, some people with RSV infection — especially older adults or infants younger than 6 months of age — may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. In serious cases, a person may require additional oxygen or intubation (having a breathing tube inserted through the mouth and down into the airway).

RSV Causes and Symptoms

Like other respiratory viruses, RSV travels by coughing and sneezing that expels droplets that travel to the eyes, nose, or mouth of another person. It can also spread on surfaces, particularly high traffic areas, such as doorknobs in public places. People with the virus are typically contagious for three to eight days, although it is possible for younger children and immunocompromised people to spread it over a longer period of time, even up to four weeks.

Mild symptoms of RSV are similar to the common cold and include congestion, runny nose, dry cough, sneezing, and headaches. Severe symptoms to watch out for, particularly in younger children and infants, include:

  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Severe cough or barking cough
  • Rapid breathing
  • Blue skin tone caused by lack of oxygen

If you see any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. According to the CDC, nearly 58,000 children under five are hospitalized with an RSV infection each year in the United States. Receiving immediate care for RSV can potentially reduce the duration of the illness and lower the risk of more severe complications such as pneumonia.

Tips for Caring for a Child with RSV

To help your doctor or other medical professionals in the diagnostic process, it is helpful to bring a detailed record of symptoms. You should also try to recall where your child may have been or visited in the past three to eight days, and any potential carrier they may have had contact with. Lab tests are generally not needed to diagnose RSV, but may be ordered to rule out other conditions or complications. In most cases, the doctor will listen to breathing and heart rate and check your child’s temperature.

There is currently no vaccine or curative treatment available for RSV. After diagnosing the presence of the virus, doctors will usually recommend parents employ basic supportive care measures for children. This should include:

  • Ensure your child gets plenty of rest and is as comfortable as possible
  • Offer plenty of fluids and watch for any signs of dehydration
  • Monitor fever and use acetaminophen to manage symptoms
  • Use over-the-counter saline nasal drops and/or suctioning to relieve nasal congestion
  • Create a moist environment using a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer to support easier breathing
  • Avoid any environmental factors, particularly cigarette smoke or pollution, that aggravate symptoms

Hospital care may be required for more severe cases if there is a need for administration of intravenous (IV) fluids, humidified oxygenation, or a breathing machine. Hospitalization, if needed, usually lasts for a few days. Younger patients with severe cases of RSV may be at an elevated risk of developing asthma later in life. Speak to your doctor about any long-term care needs.

Care Options for Kids in Florida Can Help with RSV

We understand the challenges and complexities of balancing your busy schedule with your care needs. That’s why our compassionate team at Care Options for Kids is here for you.

We provide dedicated home health care services to deliver the assistance you need in the comfort of your home. We refer highly trained and caring nurses to personalized care for families. Whether you need just a few hours a day, or round-the-clock support, we are here for you.

Reach out to us to get in touch with a home health care professional. You can also request a free in-home assessment. We are happy to work with you to develop the best plan of care for a wide range of conditions and diagnoses, including RSV.