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What you need to know about RSV in children

| Healthy You | Kids Health

Young woman on couch feels forehead of baby on her lap while making a phone call.

Read more about this seasonal illness to learn how to provide care at home and when your child should see the doctor.

Adults get RSV too. Read more about RSV. And listen to a radio interview with Margaret Pattison, MD on the "triple-demic."


Have you heard of RSV? It stands for respiratory syncytial virus. Cases of this common seasonal virus are starting earlier than usual in the Pacific Northwest.

Season starting early

"We are definitely seeing a rise in diagnosed cases in the emergency department and primary care clinics,” said Catherine Kroll, director of infection prevention at PeaceHealth. “While we haven’t seen hospitalizations rise, it’s worrisome since we’re seeing the increase much earlier than we did before the pandemic."

Serena Black, MD, medical director of children’s services and a pediatric hospitalist at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, Oregon, explained, “RSV is a winter virus that usually appears from November through the spring.”

“RSV has been around for a long time, and some seasons are worse than others,” she said. “This season could be a bad one. RSV season has begun in Washington and Oregon, and although cases are still low in Alaska, they could rise at any time.”

Medical providers saw fewer respiratory viruses in children in the last few years because families were following helpful habits to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “Now with everyone basically back to business as usual there is potential for greater spread of RSV and other respiratory viruses,” Dr. Black noted.

Symptoms to watch for

The main symptoms of RSV are similar to a cold. RSV is often mild and will usually go away on its own. But the illness can be especially hard on younger children. 

If you see the following symptoms, call your child’s doctor:

  • Fever in babies younger than 2 months old
  • Cough or congestion making it hard to eat or sleep
  • Breathing harder or faster than usual
  • Taking little fluids and diapers that are less wet than usual

Care at home

According to the CDC, there is no specific treatment for an RSV infection. Here are a few ways to provide care at home: 

  • Keep the room temperature comfortable—not hot or dry.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the room to help your little one breathe.
  • Gently suction a stuffy nose. (Watch a video on how to use a nasal aspirator or suction bulb.) 
  • Regularly offer breastmilk, formula or water.
  • Encourage rest as much as possible.

Ask your doctor about other things you can do to help your child breathe easier.

Steps to prevent illness

To prevent the spread of RSV and other illnesses, Dr. Black encourages families to continue to follow habits that can help keep them healthy, including:

  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Consider wearing masks in public, especially in crowded settings.
  • Stay home when ill.
  • When possible, delay visits with people who are sick.

Learn more about RSV.

portrait of Serena S. Black MD

Serena S. Black MD

Dr. Serena Black joined PeaceHealth Medical Group in 2011 after completing her residency at Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, CA where she was also chief resident. Prior to medical school, Dr. Black lived in Philadelphia working in clinic research. It was there that she discovered how much she enjoyed working closely with patients and the desire to work directly with patients is what inspired her to go to medical school. She chose pediatric medicine because she believes the foundation of great pediatric care is the important relationships a provider must foster with patients and their families. When Dr. Black is not caring for patients in the clinic, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their young daughter. Traveling, reading and cooking are all passions for Dr. Black. She also likes to spend time outdoors and is excited about all the beautiful places Lane County offers for hiking and other outdoor pursuits.