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Should I take my child to the emergency room for RSV?

RSV 010920
Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 11, 2022

As emergency rooms fill up with children sick with RSV, you might wonder when might be the best time to take them to the emergency room.

The Cleveland Clinic offers some guidance for parents on when the time is right.

  • Difficulty breathing, pauses while breathing, or short, shallow and rapid breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Blue or gray color to your skin

Going to your pediatrician might be a better option for less severe cases.

  • Unexpected fussiness
  • Dehydration or less than one wet diaper every eight hours, dry mouth or crying without tears
  • Coughing continues day and night and makes it hard to feed
  • Poor appetite

Parents can also call a healthcare provider for less severe cases or when a child’s fever spikes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV causes 58,000 hospitalizations annually among children under age 5.

Adults and older children who are healthy tend to have mild cases if infected.

The CDC said those with the highest risk of contracting a severe case of RSV include:

  • Premature infants
  • Very young infants, especially those 6 months and younger
  • Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions

Early symptoms tend to include a runny nose, a decrease in appetite, and cough. Those symptoms can worsen, causing inflammation of the small airways in the lung.

Doctors say preventing the spread of RSV is similar to stopping the spread of other diseases, including COVID-19 and the flu. But unlike COVID-19 or the flu, there is currently no vaccine for RSV.

If your child is at a high risk of contracting RSV, the CDC recommends the following steps:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Keep your hands off your face
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces
  • Stay home when you are sick

While there is generally an uptick in RSV cases in the fall, the CDC said cases typically peak from late December through mid-February, like other viruses. According to CDC figures, the number of detected RSV cases tripled from late August through early October.