Protecting young children from RSV

Caring For Our Kids

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s respiratory syncytial virus season. The common respiratory illness known as RSV hospitalizes nearly 60,000 children under the age of 5 every year. The virus is highly contagious and especially dangerous for newborns.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Katy Stordahl shares how the virus is spread, the symptoms of the virus, and what parents can do to prevent it.

Are you seeing kids with RSV at Children’s Hospital yet? 

We have only seen a handful of cases of RSV so far this season, but we usually see an uptick around the holidays. We don’t know what this year will hold with the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are hopeful that if more people are staying home and wearing masks when they have to go out, we could see fewer cases of RSV this season. It is still too early to tell.

What is RSV, and how is it spread? 

It’s a contagious infection of the lungs and breathing passages, spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It is especially dangerous for infants because their airways are so tiny.


RSV can cause other respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia and can cause rapid dehydration if a child is refusing to eat and drink.


Symptoms may include normal cold symptoms, including high fever. Other symptoms include:

  • Fast breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Head bobbing with breathing
  • Rhythmic grunting during breathing
  • Belly breathing, tugging between their ribs, and/or tugging at the lower neck
  • Wheezing
  • Signs of dehydration, which may include sunken eyes, lack of tears or urine, listlessness

If the child is having trouble breathing, bring them to the emergency room.


It is very important to remind people to not kiss babies. Wearing a mask around babies, especially this year is important. Remember to wash hands regularly and clean surfaces with disinfectant. Keep school-aged children with a cold away from babies until symptoms have passed.


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