RSV and colds

Cecilia Carlson
Licensed pediatric nurse


RSV is short for respiratory syncytial virus. The virus causes infection that among most of us only results in common cold symptoms. Among young children though, the virus can cause difficulties in breathing and affect their general condition negatively. 

Infected with RSV

The virus is highly contagious and is mostly spread among young children. Most children will have been infected with RSV before the age of two. The virus spreads through direct contact or indirect, eg. through an item that an infected person has been in contact with. The virus can survive for several hours on hard surfaces.


The symptoms begin as they do with a regular cold, with a runny nose, fever and cough with thick mucus, some might also get irritated and red eyes. The young child can show worsened symptoms such as rapid breathing, wheezing and hissing breath, respiratory arrest and worsened general condition. The thick mucus may affect the ability to breath and cause a troublesome nasal congestion, this can lead to difficulties in eating. At this stage it is important to seek medical care.

What you can do at home

If the child is showing milder symptoms you can relieve the infection by: 

  • Use nasal drops that contains saline solution to ease the child's breathing, especially before eating and sleeping. You can also use a baby nasal aspirator to clear the nose from thick mucus, it is best to use saline solution nasal drops before using the aspirator.
  • Raise the head of the bed, eg. by using a pillow under the mattress. When the child lays with its head high it can ease its breathing as the swelling in the nose decreases.
  • Provide your child with food and beverage more often than you normally do as the child is more tired than usual and does not have the energy to eat a lot at each meal.
  • If the child is feeling poorly due to fever you can give antipyretics. If your child is younger than 6 months you need to contact your pediatric/health center before giving your child medication.

By washing your hands often, avoiding contact with infected people and large crowds you reduce the risk of being infected with RSV.

Advice on colds

It can't be repeated enough, wash your hands with soap and water, this applies to both parents and children. It's extra important to wash before and after eating. Use disposable tissue paper when drying hands and blowing your child's nose. Colds are very contagious and children in preschool are more often infected as they are in direct contact with many people.

Teach your child to cough and sneeze in their arm fold. Viruses are often airborne and can be transmitted when children sneeze, cough or hold hands. Viruses can also be found on toys and door handles.

Play outdoors. Virus infections spread more easily indoors, therefore it is preferable to play outdoors, this also benefits the child's night sleep and they get a boost of D-vitamin. When a child is free from fever and has regained energy, it may return to preschool.

Viruses can't be cured but relieved. The child should stay at home when having a fever and doesn't have the energy to attend preschool. Let the child's general condition be the judge. Children can often handle fever very well but make sure to keep an eye on the child's fluid intake. When a child has a fever it needs to drink extra water. Antipyretics are usually not necessary if the child's general condition is well and they can eat and drink. If your child is younger than 3 months and has a fever, seek medical advice from your pediatric/health center. If your child has a nasal congestion, saline solution nasal drops might help, short-term treatment with nasal sprays that help reduce swelling is avaliable for children from one year and above. If your child is younger than one year and is struggling with nasal congestion, contact your pediatric/health center.

Contact your pediatric/health center if your child has had a fever for more than 4 days or if the child's general condition has worsened causing the child not to eat or drink. Babies who can't breastfeed or drink from a baby bottle due to nasal congestion are also in need of help. It's important to keep an eye on the child's fluid intake and if the child pees normally. If the child has difficulties breathing, you need to seek urgent medical care.

Info: Children often have colds and this is completely normal. The first years in a child's life it can have up to 10-15 colds per year. Most of these infections pass by themselves and seeking medical care is unnecessary. It's good for children to interact with other people and to play with their friends. However, you need to be careful if you have an infant as they are a lot more sensitive, especially during the first few months. Choose outings by using common sense. A trip to the shopping mall can be left till the baby is older, or choose a time of the day when there's not a lot of people, especially during flu season.