Respiratory Syncytial Virus
Respiratory illnesses, including colds and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are very common in young children and we see them every year. RSV causes mild respiratory infection in adults and children, but it can be severe in infants who are at increased risk of acute lower respiratory tract infection. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children aged under 2 years.
Bronchiolitis is an infection of the lower airways, that can make the airways inflamed and mucusy making it harder to breath. The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold, such as a runny nose and a cough. Further symptoms can develop over the next few days, and may include:
- a slight high temperature (fever)
- a dry and persistent cough
- difficulty feeding
- rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing)
Parents should seek emergency NHS care if their child become breathless – the most common symptom of severe RSV.
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:
- you’re worried about your child
- your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last 2 or 3 feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more
- your child has a persistent high temperature of 38C or above
- your child seems very tired or irritable
Dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- your baby is having difficulty breathing
- your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
- there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
Good respiratory and hand hygiene can reduce the spread of these infections. Parents are advised to carry tissues and use them to catch coughs or sneezes, bin the used tissues as soon as possible and wash your hands with soap and warm water to kill the germs.
Children with flu or bronchiolitis symptoms should stay home and reduce contacts where possible. Most cases are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but the symptoms can be very worrying for parents. For some infants and babies, such as those born prematurely or with a heart condition, bronchiolitis can be more severe. NHS 111 or your GP can offer advice if any parent has concerns.
It is perfectly okay for parents to ask people with colds to keep away from newborn babies, particularly in the first two months, and for babies born prematurely.
There’s no medication to kill the virus that causes bronchiolitis, but the infection usually clears up within 2 weeks without the need for treatment. Most children can be cared for at home in the same way that you’d treat a cold.
Make sure your child gets enough fluid to avoid dehydration. You can give infants paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down their temperature if the fever is upsetting them.
About 2 to 3% of babies who develop bronchiolitis during the first year of life will need to be admitted to hospital because they develop more serious symptoms, such as breathing difficulties. This is more common in premature babies (born before week 37 of pregnancy) and those born with a heart or lung condition.
More information about bronchiolitis can be found on the NHS website.