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What Is RSV?

What You Need to Know About the "Common Cold" That Turned Life-Threatening For This Family

As a mother of three, Shanisty Ireland knew the drill: when one kid gets sick, the others usually follow suit. But last Winter, when her two oldest children, Luke and Eden, kept coming down with the sniffles, at first Shanisty wasn't overly concerned for her 5-week-old son, Adam. She was breastfeeding him and he hadn't had any health issues so far, that is, until one day when he started showing some concerning cold-like symptoms.

"He threw up on my dad. It wasn't just spit up," she explained to Today. "He wasn't opening his eyes and he was really starting to have that labored breathing. His head was bobbing; you could see his rib cage when he sucked in."

Panicked by his severe symptoms, Shanisty took Adam to the pediatrician immediately. The diagnosis? Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

What Is RSV?

If you've never heard of RSV before, you're not alone. But it's important to be aware of it, as the virus can be life-threatening if not treated properly. According to the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than a year old, and contracting either or both of those two illnesses as a baby can have devastating effects such as long-term breathing issues and reduced adult lung function later in life.

Edward Kulich, MD, a pediatrician in New Jersey and New York and the owner of the concierge service KidsHousecalls, told POPSUGAR why RSV is often confused with a common cold: "It's a virus that causes common cold symptoms in older children and adults, and is well-known for causing bronchiolitis (a viral infection of the medium-sized airways that causes coughing and wheezing in infants)."

"RSV can hit any child and any person at any given time."

Following Adam's RSV diagnosis, Shanisty's pediatrician sent them home, but unfortunately, Adam's symptoms took a rapid nose-dive. "He didn't have a wet diaper and he wasn't eating at all," she said. The next stop was the emergency room, where doctors administered IV fluids, nose aspirations, and breathing treatments to Adam, which truly terrified his mother. "Everybody who was working with him and speaking to me was dressed head to toe in masks. I was thinking, 'I still don't even know what RSV is,'" she said. "It was very scary, especially because his fever started spiking."

Thankfully, Adam is on the road to recovery, and now, his mom has made it her mission to spread the word about the virus. "I didn't recognize how serious it was until it was almost too late," Shanisty said. "RSV can hit any child and any person at any given time. I would really love for people to understand that and know what the signs are."

Symptoms

If your child has a cold that only seems to be getting worse, Dr. Kulich suggests taking them to a medical professional immediately. Here are symptoms of RSV to look out for, according to Dr. Kulich as well as the CDC's guidelines:

  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Decreased or no appetite
  • Decreased fluid intake
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Fever

Prevention

As far as preventative measures go, Dr. Kulich has a few tips for parents. "Hand-washing is the most important [preventative measure] you can take, as well as limiting contact with people who are coughing and sneezing during the Winter months," he told POPSUGAR. He also recommends that anyone over 6 months old gets a flu shot every year and to regularly clean surfaces that are frequently touched.

Also important to note: RSV can be particularly harmful to children who are born prematurely. "There's a type of vaccine that may be indicated for premature infants to protect against RSV, called Synagys," Dr. Kulich said. "If your baby is premature, talk to your doctor [to see if] Synagys is right for your child."

Dr. Edward Kulich runs KidsHousecalls, the oldest and most respected pediatric concierge practice in New York City. His patients range from A-list celebrities to professional athletes to New Yorkers who demand the highest level of care for their children. More information about his concierge practice can be found at KidsHousecalls.com.

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