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RSV Symptoms

RSV Basics


Updated July 16, 2014

While RSV, or the respiratory syncytial virus, may just cause a cold in older children, it can cause a serious and life threatening infection in younger high risk children. These children, including premature babies, can develop bronchiolitis, which is associated with inflammation in the lungs, wheezing and difficulty breathing. RSV can also cause croup, ear infections, and pneumonia.

RSV Symptoms

Older children with RSV often just get simple cold symptoms, like a runny nose, cough, and fever.

In younger children, especially infants and toddlers, RSV can affect their lungs, causing bronchiolitis or pneumonia. These children can develop more severe symptoms after about 2 to 4 days of having regular cold symptoms and after their fever may have gone away, including:

  • irritability and poor feeding
  • lethargy
  • worsening cough
  • difficulty breathing, with retractions and nasal flaring
  • fast breathing
  • wheezing
  • hypoxemia (low oxygen levels), although cyanosis, is not common
  • apnea, although this is most common in infants under 6 weeks of age
Be sure to call your pediatrician or seek other medical attention if your child's cold seems to be worsening and you think he is developing more severe RSV symptoms.


Toni Darville, MD. Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Pediatrics in Review. 1998;19:55-61.

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