RSV symptoms in babies

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, commonly known as RSV, often manifests itself in adults as not much more than a cold. As such, RSV infections are not much of a concern in older people. However, it is in babies that this infection brings with it the most severe consequences. 

Babies have not yet fully developed their airways, making it more challenging to cough up mucus and breathe when struck with infections such as RSV. These complications may lead to the development of a more severe illness called bronchiolitis, which includes wheezing along with coughing. Pneumonia may also be a complication of RSV, and babies may need hospitalization. 

In older children and adults, RSV usually causes cold-like symptoms. Commonly transmitted during November through April, RSV often follows a timeline of symptoms, peaking on the 5th day. However, indications may present themselves earlier or later. Initial signs of the infection in adults include a runny nose, loss of appetite, or a sore throat. For babies, keep a close eye out for the following:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Irritability

  • Fever

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing

  • Wheezing

  • Lethargy 

  • Using chest muscles to breathe in a labored way


Children born prematurely and those with heart or lung problems are more vulnerable to RSV. Watch out for severe symptoms which might indicate a need for a trip to the pediatrician:

  • Dehydration: sunken fontanels (soft spots) or no tear production when crying is a sign of dehydration and possible RSV symptom. 

  • Coughing up thick gray, green, or yellow mucus.

  • Fever greater than 38 C in babies younger than three months

  • Fever greater than 39.5 in a child of any age

  • Thick nasal discharge


Find immediate medical care if the baby’s fingernails or mouth are blue. This coloration indicates a dangerous lack of oxygen.

How Babies Catch RSV

RSV, like many viruses, travels through the air and direct contact. It is possible to catch RSV the same way a person catches a cold.

The chance of contracting a severe infection is highest for the following groups:

  • Premature babies

  • Babies under 6 to 10 weeks old

  • Infants and young children with weakened immune systems due to illness or medication

  • Children and infants with a heart or lung disease


Is RSV in Babies Contagious?

Can adults get RSV from babies? The short answer to this question is yes. An RSV-infected infant is typically contagious for three to eight days and should be kept separate from younger siblings and children. Since the virus spreads from direct and indirect contact, an individual may catch it from a sneeze, cough, or touch from the infected person. 

The virus may also live on objects for several hours, such as a crib or toys.

Can a Baby Catch the Flu from Adults?

Yes, absolutely. A baby can catch the flu, RSV, and several other viruses from adults and other infants. It is essential to take preventative measures to help keep these viruses away.

  • Anyone with cold-like symptoms should avoid kissing babies.

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.

  • Wash hands often.

  • Other people should always wash their hands before touching someone else’s baby.

  • Keep babies away from crowds. 

  • RSV Breastfed babies, as well as other infected babies, tend to have a shorter healing time. This protection is due to the antibodies found in a mother’s breastmilk. Breastfed babies also reportedly have a lower chance of contracting viruses and diseases. 


Babies with RSV often recover within a two-week timeframe. Most infants can recover without medical intervention. However, if a person believes their baby is dehydrated, having trouble breathing, or in mild or severe distress, a hospital visit is the best option. 


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