Symptoms of RSV in babies all parents should know

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By now, most of us know this rule by heart: do not kiss babies — especially newborns — on the mouth, face or hands. Why? Because their immune system is still very fragile and does not protect them from a whopping range of germs that live in an adult’s system. An adult can easily deal with these germs. But a baby cannot. A common condition that can have severe health repercussions for a young baby, is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). RSV in baby symptoms can be deadly. 

The RSV virus is notorious for making newborns and young babies very sick — even causing death — and is often transmitted to them by an adult’s contact, usually saliva from a kiss. This is why it’s so important for parents to set firm rules about adult contact with their little ones. It’s also crucial that mums and dads are aware of RSV in baby symptoms. 

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Almost all children will contract an RSV infection before their 2nd birthday. Usually the symptoms are cold-like and will ease in a week or two.

What is RSV? 

RSV is very common, highly contagious virus that infects the respiratory system. It is so common that most children contract it before their second birthdays.

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 health problems. Two common health conditions are bronchiolitis, where the small airways of the lungs get infected, and pneumonia which can be deadly in a baby.

To give you some perspective of how dangerous an RSV infection can be to a baby, one to two out of every 100 babies younger than six months with RSV need to be hospitalised. Once in hospital, they may require oxygen, intubation and/or help with breathing, via mechanical ventilation. 

At risk of developing severe health conditions due to RSV are: 

  • Premature babies
  • Newborns between the age of eight to 10 weeks old
  • Children under the age of two, born with lung or heart conditions
  • Little ones whose immune systems are weak due to medication or illness

In order to get prompt medical help for a little one with this infection, it’s crucial parents are aware of RSV in baby symptoms. 

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In very young babies, RSV can even be fatal if not diagnosed and managed early. 

RSV in Baby Symptoms

As explained previously, an RSV infection in a newborn can be deadly since their immune systems are so fragile. Also, they cannot talk to tell you how they feel. However, RSV in baby symptoms will always be obvious, unlike in adults who may not show any signs of it at all. 

RSV in baby symptoms (under six months) include: 

  • irritability
  • decreased activity
  • decreased appetite
  • apnea (interruptions to breathing)

You should note that fever is not always present as RSV in baby symptoms. 

There are also very early RSV in baby symptoms that parents should be aware of. They are: 

  • a cough that may develop into wheezing 
  • loss of appetite
  • a runny nose

Generally, the symptoms will ease in one to two weeks. However, at first sign of the very early RSV in baby symptoms described above, you should definitely show your baby to a doctor. 

A baby needs immediate medical attention, if they: 

  • completely refuse milk 
  • show signs of dehydration — no tears when crying, dry skin, little to no urine output over six hours. 
  • show extreme signs of irritability 
  • are limp or inactive
  • produce yellow, green or gray mucus. 
  • have trouble breathing 
  • have a bluish tint to their lips or skin

Preventing RSV in Babies

Unfortunately, there is still no vaccine to prevent RSV. Neither is there medication to treat the infection. However, there are precautions you and others can take in order to minimise or prevent the risk of your baby contracting this infection. 

  • Never let visitors (even if they are family) kiss your newborn on their face or hands, as germs can easily be transferred this way. 
  • Advise visitors to wash or sanitise their hands before holding or touching your baby. 
  • If you have a cold, the you too should avoid kissing your baby. Consider wearing a face mask to prevent the infection spreading through coughing and sneezing to your baby. The same rule applies to other family members with cold symptoms. 
  • Keep your little one away from crowds. 
  • Do not permit smoking near your baby. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that often come into contact with hands, such as door knobs and taps. 

As mentioned before, there is no medication that can treat the infection. However, you can help ease your little one’s symptoms while carefully monitoring for severe RSV symptoms (described above). 

Make sure you keep your little one hydrated, and if his nose is congested, you could try getting rid of the mucus with a bulb syringe and saline drops. 

Also read: Please Don’t Kiss My Baby!

References: Web MD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention