Symptoms of RSV are similar to colds and other respiratory infections. They may include coughing, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, fever, loss of appetite, wheezing, and trouble sleeping. Very young infants may become irritable, have difficulty breathing, and show decreased activity. Severe cases of RSV can also result in bluish skin color due to a lack of oxygen and difficulty breathing.
Most people show symptoms of RSV within 4-6 days of being infected and will recover within 1-2 weeks. However, people can continue to be contagious for 1-3 weeks after they have stopped manifesting symptoms.
RSV is diagnosed through a chest X-ray and mucus sample that is analyzed for presence of the virus. However, because the symptoms are very similar to a cold, the disease often goes undiagnosed.
Because RSV is a virus, it cannot be directly treated with antibiotics. Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines, but nothing is available yet. However, over the counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help alleviate fever and other symptoms while the body’s natural antibodies fight off the virus.
In a severe case of RSV, the patient may need to be treated with oxygen, have mucus suctioned from their airways or use breathing tubes to make sure they can breathe properly. Some children with severe RSV are treated with ribavirin aerosol, a drug which helps open the airways. If the case is very severe, the patient may need to be hospitalized for a few days.
Doctors strongly recommend that babies and those at risk for RSV take steps to prevent contracting the disease. Young babies should be kept out of crowds, child-care centers, and other potentially contagious settings, particularly during the RSV season (pediatricians can give advice on when this is). Make sure that people wash their hands before holding the baby. If possible, do not let people with cold-like symptoms hold your baby.
Others can help stop the spread of RSV by taking precautions when they have cold-like symptoms. They should cover coughs and sneezes, wash their hands frequently, avoid sharing eating utensils, and using disinfectants on hard surfaces.
With these measures, most babies can avoid contracting RSV until they have built the lung strength and antibodies to fight the disease.