RS virus in children


An RS virus infection usually starts as a common cold. Adults and older children usually do not have any major problems. Above all, it is children who are younger than one year who can become seriously ill, with cough and difficulty breathing. Then you may need to seek care for the child immediately. The same applies if the child belongs to a risk group, for example, has a lung disease.

RS virus is an abbreviation of a respiratory syncytial virus. RS virus infects easily and most children get infected at some point during their first two years. The infection is more common during the winter months.  

Symptoms of RS virus in children

The infection usually causes the same symptoms as a common cold :

  • The child has a cord. Younger children often get coughed with sly mucus.
    • The child coughs.
  • The child has a mild fever, about 38-38.5 degrees.
  • The eyes can become irritated and red.

Sometimes the trouble can be more difficult. Then the child may have one or more of the following symptoms of RS virus in children

  • The cough becomes more strained.
  • The child gets harder to breathe. When the child exhales it can sound wheezing and wheezing.
  • The child can get tough mucus in the nose and the trachea.
  • The child cannot eat or drink.
  • Children under the age of one year may have a respiratory break. This is especially true if the baby is born prematurely.

A large part of the problems that the youngest children suffer from an RS infection is because the tough mucus impedes breathing. Children younger than one year breathe most through the nose. They often find it difficult to cope with eating, as the hard breathing with stuffy nose takes a lot of power.

In children younger than, above all, six months, the more severe problems are often due to the fact that the virus has caused an infection in the smallest trachea. It is called bronchiolitis.

An RS infection often lasts longer than a common cold, sometimes up to a month.

When and where should I seek care?

Seek immediate care at a health care center or an on-call clinic if your child has one or more of the following disorders. If it is closed at the health center or on-call reception, seek care at an emergency room.

  • The child has symptoms of an infection with RS virus and belongs to a risk group. You can read more about the risk groups in the next section.
  • The child seems very tired and you do not get the same contact with the child as usual.
  • The child has strained breathing, such as rapid or superficial breathing.
  • The child is pale or bluish in the skin. The blue can be seen most on the lips and under the nails.
  • The child cannot eat or drink.
  • The child has a respite.

You can seek care at any healthcare center you want throughout the country.

Children belonging to a risk group

Some children are at greater risk of becoming more seriously ill with an RS infection. If any of the following is true, your child is considered to be at risk:

  • The child is younger than two months.
  • The child is born more than five weeks premature until they are one year old.
  • The child has some immune deficiency disease.
  • The child is under two years of age and has a chronic lung disease.
  • The child is under two years of age and has some heart disease.
  • The child is under two years and has some neurological disease.

What can I do for myself?

If the child has minor problems you can try to relieve them in the same way as in a common cold.

Nasal drops can make breathing easier

If the baby is stuffy in the nose, you can use nasal drops with saline, especially when the baby is eating and sleeping. Try to drip or spray the solution in the baby’s nose several times. It can cause the mucus to dissolve.  

For children over one year, you can also use non-prescription decongestant nasal drops. They make it easier for the baby to breathe through the nose.

Sleeping with your head high

Raise the head end of the child’s bed by, for example, bed with extra pillows under the mattress. Then it often becomes easier for the child to breathe, since the swelling in the mucous membranes of the nose decreases if the child has his head high.

The child can also sleep in, for example, a carrying harness, in his lap or in a babysitter.

Give more often

Give food or breastfeed more often than usual if the child does not have the capacity to eat so much every time.

Give drink more often

It is important that the child gets enough fluid. Therefore, give the baby fluid frequently. Children up to one year can breastfeed or receive milk replacement more often than usual.

Use a nosebleed

You can use a nasal aspirate to suck the tough mucus out of your nose. You can buy it at a pharmacy. Preferably give nasal drops with saline solution before, as it dissolves the mucus and makes it less tough.

Wash the child’s eyes

If your eyes are irritated and messy, you can wash them with a cotton swab with saline or lukewarm water.

Provide medication for fever if needed

Give a fever-reducing drug if the child feels noticeably bad from the fever, for example, is tired and unable to eat or drink. 

  • You can give medicines containing paracetamol to children from three months of age. 
  • You can give medicines containing ibuprofen from the age of six months. 

The drugs are available in several different forms that are suitable for children, such as orodispersible tablets and solutions. Ask a pharmacy what is right for your child.

Follow the instructions on the package carefully and do not combine different medicines. Here you can read about combining paracetamol and ibuprofen. 

You can read more about medicine in the package leaflet that comes with the package and read the package leaflet there.

Giving medicines to children

Prescription drugs for temporary pain

How to infect RS virus?

It takes three to five days from the time the child has been infected with RS virus to the disease.

The virus is spread in different ways:

  • Through direct contact, for example, if you or the child take a sick person in the hand.
  • By objects that a sick person has taken in or hosted. For example, there may be toys and pacifiers that sick children have had in their mouths. It is called indirect contact. The RS virus can survive for hours on toys, handles, and clothing.
  • Through drip infection. When a sick person sneezes or coughs, a cloud of small droplets is formed with the virus. The droplets fall on surfaces or objects and from there the virus can spread. You can also be infected directly by a sick person sneezing at you.

A child who has become ill with RS virus once is not completely immune to the disease. Therefore, the child may become ill again, but usually, the problems become easier compared to the first time.

More people are infected during the winter

Every year for a few months in the winter, the number of children who become ill with RS viruses increases. When the period begins and how many people get sick vary from year to year. It can also vary across Europe.

Most often, the period begins early in the winter and most people usually fall ill in February or March. Every two years, the outbreak tends to become more severe. At the Public Health Authority, you can follow the number of reported cases of RS virus.

How can I reduce the risk of the child being infected?

You can reduce the risk that you or the child will be infected by the RS virus by being careful with hygiene. If you or the child is sick, the same advice applies to try to prevent the spread of infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cough and sneeze in the arms fold or in a handkerchief. Do not sneeze straight into the air or in your hand.

Be extra careful during periods with many sick people

For a few months during the winter, the RS virus gets more spread, and many become infected and sick. Then it is good if you are extra careful. The younger your child is, the more important it is. It is also important to try to protect children who are at risk, such as being premature or having heart disease or lung disease.

Try to ensure that the child is not unnecessarily exposed to situations where there may be infection:

  • Avoid contact with cold children and adults.
  • Choose activities where you meet outdoors.


If the child needs to be admitted to the hospital for care, a nurse will take a test to see if the symptoms are due to the RS virus.

The nurse sucks some mucus from the nose with a thin tube. It goes fast and doesn’t hurt. The sample is then sent for analysis and often the answer comes the same day.

Treatment of RS virus in children

Children and adults with common cold symptoms can usually be cared for at home.

If the child has mild colds, they can get help at the health center.

Sometimes hospital care is needed

Children who are up to one year old and children belonging to a risk group can have more severe problems when they become ill. They may need hospital care. This also applies to older people and adults who have immune deficiency diseases.

The treatment is aimed at relieving the problems caused by the infection.

The child gets help with fluid and nutrition

In the hospital, the child is primarily assisted in getting enough fluid and nutrition. The baby gets the nourishment through a plastic tube that goes to the stomach via the nose or mouth. The plastic tube is called a probe.

The baby can also get fluid and nourishment directly into the blood via a thin plastic tube, called a drip.

The child gets help with breathing

To make it easier to breathe, the child can receive nasal drops and drugs to inhale, so-called inhalation treatments.

If needed, the baby can get oxygen. It can be obtained through either a so-called plastic halter that is inserted into the nose or through a mask placed over the nose and mouth. It is needed if the child has a lack of oxygen in the blood. The child may also receive a so-called high-flow grinder.

It is unusual, but sometimes the child needs help to breathe with a so-called CPAP or a respirator. CPAP consists of a mask placed over the child’s nose. Through the mask, the child can breathe in a mixture of air and oxygen.

Preventive treatment of RS virus in children

Sometimes the child can receive preventative treatment to reduce the risk of getting seriously ill from the RS virus. This applies, for example, to children who are prematurely born and children with certain heart diseases or lung diseases. The treatment is mainly given to children younger than one year.

During treatment, the child receives a syringe with a special antiviral drug. The syringe is given once a month during the period of the year when the virus is most active. If the child has already been infected with RS virus, treatment will not help.

It is a doctor who makes the assessment of whether your child needs preventative treatment against the RS virus. Contact a doctor if you are wondering if this may be the case. 

Continued asthma-like problems

Children who are younger than one year and who have had a severe RS infection often suffer from asthma-like breathing problems, especially when they are cold. 

The research indicates that children get asthma mainly because they have hereditary tendencies for it. Thus, they do not need to have had an RS infection to develop asthma.

But at the same time, it seems that some viruses, such as RS, increase the risk of developing asthma in children who already have a predisposition to it. 

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