Is it a Cold or is it RSV?

A sick child lays in bed with his teddy bear
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It’s that time of year – if you don’t have a cold or haven’t had one yet, it seems only a matter of time before you or your kids will have one. You probably know that colds are caused by a wide range of viruses, which is the main reason why we can’t ever seem to stop catching one. You may have also heard of a specific virus known as RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the specific viruses which causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

A few facts about RSV.

  • Almost all children will be infected with RSV before the age of 2.
  • Most cases will exhibit only minor symptoms like other “colds,” but RSV is the leading cause for hospitalization in infants less than 1-year-old because it can lead to more serious infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. About 25-40% of affected infants and children will develop bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • RSV-related infections lead to more than 2 million visits to a doctor or emergency room in children under the age of 5.
  • RSV can affect people of all ages. Premature babies and older adults with chronic medical conditions are more likely to develop serious secondary infections.
  • Because people do not form long-lasting immunity to RSV, they can become infected repeatedly.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

RSV can cause a wide variety of symptoms, from very mild to life-threatening. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion, runny nose, mild cough, and low-grade fever are the typical initial symptoms.
  • Hoarse, “barking” cough.
  • Fever which can become higher as the illness progresses.
  • Difficulty breathing and/or wheezing.
  • Difficulty drinking.
  • Lethargy or irritability.

How is RSV diagnosed?

Mild RSV infections usually affect the upper respiratory tract and produce the same symptoms as the common cold. If the virus infects the lower respiratory tract it can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. The main reason for definitive diagnosis of RSV as the causative agent of illness is to isolate the patient and prevent further infection of others. A nasal swab test can determine whether RSV is the cause of illness.

How is RSV treated?

Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics are not effective. There is no specific treatment. Encourage plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If needed, a pain reliever (not aspirin) can be given for fever and headache. With young children who are unable to blow their own nose, a nasal aspirator or bulb syringe is helpful to remove nasal fluids.

What is the best protection against RSV?

RSV spreads easily from person to person. Hand washing is the best means of prevention! Frequent and thorough hand washing can help prevent infection and further spread of the virus. There is currently no vaccine for RSV.

When should I seek the help of a medical professional?

Call a healthcare provider if breathing difficulties develop. Also contact a professional if you notice signs of dehydration (fewer than one wet diaper in 8 hours), gray or blue color to lips, tongue, or skin, or other cold symptoms becoming more severe (spike in fever, persistent shallow cough, etc.) Any breathing problems in an infant are an emergency. Seek medical help right away.

Remember, Integrity Urgent Care is here for you and your family, every day from 8 am to 8 pm. The Integrity Urgent Care team of certified, highly skilled, and experienced care providers always have our patients’ best interests and well-being at heart, without the ER price tag.



American Lung Association. Learn about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).  Lung Health & Diseases [online]. Last updated 13 Mar 2018 [accessed 4 Feb 2019].

Jones A. RSV: When it’s more than just a cold. American Academy of Pediatrics [online]. Last update 12 Dec 2018 [accessed 4 Feb 2019].

National Library of Medicine. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections. MedlinePlus [online]. Last updated 30 Jan 2019 [accessed 4 Feb 2019].


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