Symptoms of RSV in Infants


This year has been a bad year for RSV.

Respiratory Syncycial Virus is “a virus that causes a respiratory tract infection. It can cause respiratory tract illness in patients of all ages, but children under the age of one are especially vulnerable. RSV is a very serious concern for infants. In fact, it is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia and is the leading cause of viral death in children under the age of five. It has also been shown that RSV is the number one reason for hospitalization of children under the age of one.” (

IMG_4041You may have a friend who’s had a child with RSV. Or, perhaps one of your own children have battled it in your home. I’m writing today because most recently, my newborn, David contracted RSV at 10 weeks of age and was hospitalized for five days. And, I have to say that it was difficult for me to tell that anything was wrong at first. I simply relied on a few “best practices” which allowed us to catch it early and allow him to battle the virus safely, in the hospital. So, naturally, I want to share the early signs of RSV along with the standard guidelines I followed (blindly) that saved his life.

According to the early signs of RSV include:

  • Congested or runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Mild headache

In more severe cases symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing — a high-pitched noise that’s usually heard on breathing out (exhaling)
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, which may make the child prefer to sit up rather than lie down
  • Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis)

David started having a dry cough on the Wednesday before he was hospitalized. (I thought that perhaps he’d picked up the same cough that his siblings had been fighting the past week.) He was very sleepy on Thursday and didn’t eat as much as usual. I thought, perhaps he was going through a growth spurt. Or, I also wondered if it was a delayed reaction to having his immunizations done that Monday. As it turned out, these were all the early signs of RSV. (Infants with older siblings are the MOST likely candidates to contract RSV.)

Friday morning at 3am, David woke up for his regular middle-of-the-night feeding. He was hot. I took his temperature and it was 101. I’m no fever-phobe, but I had JUST read something that said if your infant is less than 3 months old and they run a fever higher than 100.4, then they should be taken into the emergency room right away. So, to be honest, I felt a little bit silly taking my child in with the only symptom being a low fever.

It was a great decision to go to the ER. They tested him for RSV and he came back RSV positive. I knew that we had caught it at the very beginning of the virus and that the worst was ahead of us. I had no idea what to expect having never been through this disease with another child. 

Even though he was RSV positive, his symptoms weren’t bad enough for him to be hospitalized (yet), so they gave him some Tylenol and they sent us home. I literally thought “Even I could have just given him Tylenol for the fever.”

At our follow up appointment on Saturday morning, my pediatrician said that David “wasn’t moving good air”. So, he wasn’t breathing well and his oxygen levels were low. They gave him a breathing treatment and that seemed to help open up his lungs and allow him to get more air.

My Dr. gave me the option of going home and administer breathing treatments to him there or to go back to the ER. I asked my Doctor, “well, what if I go back to the ER and they send us home again?” To that he said that he would be happy to have him admitted into the hospital, if that’s what I wanted to do. I had the power to make the call since his symptoms weren’t too severe at that point.

Having David admitted to the hospital was the best parenting decision I’ve made to date. I chose to have him admitted partly because I couldn’t tell that his breathing was labored before the breathing treatment and that it was better after the breathing treatment was administered. I understood my own limitations and my own ignorance around the symptoms of the disease and that I might not be able to determine if he needed emergency care again.

IMG_4131The other reason I chose to have him admitted to the hospital was because I knew that the worst was in ahead of us and I wouldn’t be able to give him what he needed at home. I’m so thankful that my doctor defered to my decision to have him cared for and monitored at the hospital.

David stayed at the hospital on oxygen for five days after that. He was the worst at night and had labored breathing and needed multiple breathing treatments and deep suction to help him breath more easily.

He had three more days of fever spikes while his body fought the virus. Again, I can’t express how thankful I am that we were in the hospital and that he was able to receive such great care.

My greatest takeaway from out RSV battle is to trust my instincts. At our follow up appointment, my pediatrician congratulated me on making the decision to have David admitted to the hospital. He said that “moms always know.”

I have to say that I didn’t really “know” anything at that time. But I knew what I didn’t know and I’d done enough research to know that RSV can affect infants much more harshly than older children and adults. I relied on the “best practices” and it saved my baby’s life.

Pictures: 1. David in the hospital needing oxygen, but starting to feel like himself again. 2. David at home a few days after being released from the hospital.

P.S. To educated you on what to look for in an infant who is having difficulty breathing, here’s a helpful video: RSV Infant Retraction



  1. Joy, my 9 month old, Canaan, was in the hospital for RSV last month. We dealt with his “sickness” for 4 nights on our own thinking that it would get better. But after a trip to his pediatrician, who put us on home nebulizer treatments, that evening we couldn’t handle it on our own any longer. his retractions were horrible and once we got to the ER we found that his Oxygen levels were down to 84%. We spent 3 days/nights in the hospital doing breathing treatments every 2 hours along with deep suctioning. Horrible! But I would agree, moms need to follow their instincts. Sorry you went through that but so fortunate that we are in a place with good medicine.

    • Oh Shannon! That is so scary! I agree though, it made me super thankful to have such great medical care so easily accessible!
      Those days in the hospital were all a blur and ran together, but I’d do it all again!

  2. I’m so glad David is doing better! We went through RSV with Baylor but at 18 months…at the time I didn’t realize how lucky we were that it was more like a bad cold until we talked to friends who ended up in the hospital. I love that you wrote that you “knew your limitations”. It think that’s a brilliant way to say that we realize that we don’t know everything but with our kids, we can’t be too careful. Great job!

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