1. What is RSV?

RSV is MORE THAN A COLD! RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. This is a very common virus, one that virtually all children contract by the time they are two years old. The virus causes a lung infection that can make some babies and young children very sick. RSV is the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis in babies and is the most frequent cause of lower respiratory tract infections in children. According to a study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal in July 2002, RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization of infants under the age of one. In addition, RSV is thought to play a major role in the development of childhood asthma.  See our RSV Resource page for more information.

2. Who is at risk for RSV?

Virtually everyone will contract RSV at some time. RSV infection can place the following categories of children at particular risk:

  • infants born premature (before 36 weeks)
  • infants born with chronic lung or heart disease
  • children in an environment where someone smokes
  • infants who have  an extended exposure to many other children (like a child in daycare or in a home with older siblings)
  • children with a family history of asthma
  • multiple birth children since they are more likely than singletons to have been born prematurely and RSV is extremely contagious

In high-risk pediatric patients, RSV lower respiratory tract infections can lead to hospitalization, ICU admission, mechanical ventilation and possibly death.* Premature babies and infants with chronic lung conditions are at increased risk for complications from serious RSV disease. (*Shay et al. Bronchiolitis-associated hospitalizations among US children, 1980-1996. JAMA. 1999;282:1440-1446)

Among those at risk for developing life-threatening RSV infections are:



a. Premature babies (35 weeks gestation or less)
b. Infants under 6-8 weeks of age
c. Infants or toddlers with congenital heart disease
d. Infants or toddlers with chronic lung complications (including asthma and bronchopulmonary dysplasia)
e. Two or more children who share a bedroom
f. Multiples
g. Infants with school age siblings
h. Infants exposed to passive smoke exposure
i. Infants who attend daycare
j. Infants with a body mass less than 5 kilograms (11.05 lbs)
k. Infant boys
l. Infants who are not breastfed

3. Is RSV serious?

In most adults and children RSV results in a simple cold. However, premature babies and toddlers or those with lung problems can become gravely ill. During RSV season up to 125,000 infants and young children will be admitted to the hospital as a result of RSV infection. Sadly, about 2% of these children may die from complications associated with it.

4. What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms of RSV often resemble a cold at the beginning:


  • fever
  • runny nose
  • sniffles


Signs to watch for as RSV progresses are:

  • persistent coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • very rapidly breathing or grasping for air
  • blue lips are area around the mouth and under fingernails
  • fever over 100.4 degress in an infant under 3-months-old, over 101 degrees in an infant between 3-6 months-old, and more than 103 degrees in an infant over 6-months-old.


The child's condition can worsen VERY quickly. If there is more than one child in the home, RSV can spread rapidly throughout the home. This is one of the major reasons why RSV is such a great concern to multiple birth families. In all likelihood if you have one baby with RSV that means that each of your other babies have most likely been exposed to it as well and could quite possibly have it also. RSV season lasts from fall to late spring (October through April in most areas of the country).

Find up-to-date information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about RSV outbreaks by state, region, or the entire US on the RSV Tracking System.


5. How is RSV contracted?

It is very, very easy to contract RSV. It is spread by physical contact (such as shaking hands with an infected person) or by air droplets (caused by an infected person sneezing or coughing). RSV can also live for up to 6 hours on surfaces, such as doorknobs, telephones, faucet handles, counters or used tissues, burp cloths. RSV infections are very common in areas where people are crowded together (either in living together or even taking mass transportation) and in day-care centers. In homes where there are multiple children, RSV can spread very rapidly from child to child. Older brothers and sisters may bring the virus home from school or friends' homes.

6. Can RSV infection be prevented?

To help protect your baby, there are simple steps that parents and caregivers can take:

  • Have family members and caregivers wash their hands with warm water and soap, especially before touching your children.  If you have other children, have them wash their hands frequently, especially after returning from school or daycare. (See more about proper hand washing.)
  • Avoid being around the baby if you have a cold or fever
  • Avoid exposing the baby to other children with cold symptoms. Anyone with a cold or fever should avoid being around your children.
  • Keep the baby away from crowds and avoid close contact with others. To help explain te risks of RSV and how to help protect your at-risk infant(s), download our Letter to Family Members and Friends. (PDF)
  • It is critical that you never allow smoke around your children.
  • Wash bedding and toys often.
  • Don't share personal items such as pacifiers, eating utensiles, toothbruches, etc, with other children.
  • Talk to your baby’s pediatrician about RSV risks and prevention.


7. Is there a medication available to prevent RSV disease?

Synagis was approved by the FDA in 1998 to help prevent serious complications from RSV infection in high-risk babies. Synagis is given once a month during the RSV season (usually about 5 visits). This involves a brief visit to the doctor to receive an injection (shot) in the baby's thigh.


8. Where can I learn more about RSV?

RSV or call the PreemieCare office (631-859-1110)


9. My child has some risk factors that place her at greater risk for complications from RSV infection. Will my insurance company pay for Synagis?

Synagis therapy is often covered by medical insurance, particularly for a child at high-risk for RSV, such as a premature infant. The toll-free Synagis number (1-877-633-4411) may help you with assistance in obtaining insurance coverage. Medically indigent families may qualify for free Synagis. For information contact:

MedImmune Assistance Program

P. O. Box 222197

Charlotte, NC 28222-2197

Learn more about MedImmune (PDF)

Toll Free Phone Number 877-480-8082
Alternate Phone Number 877-633-4411
Fax Number 877-675-6513

  • Guidelines and Notes: Help is available only for people with no insurance and meet the financial guidelines.
  • Initiating Enrollment: The provider must call and the company will fax an application and information. The information for the application can be taken over the phone or the application, once completed, may be mailed or faxed to the company.
  • Health Provider's Role: The doctor completes and signs the form.
  • Patient's Role: Provides income and insurance information. A signature is required

Important Note: See PreemieCare's Finances and Insurance resources for additional options to help pay for treatments.


RSV is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in babies and young children. About 67% of babies are infected with RSV before their first birthday and virtually all children will have been infected by their second birthday.

Most of these infections result in minor illness. But in some high-risk children (particularly preemies or children who have experienced lung complications) RSV can be life threatening. In the US alone, more than 125,000 infants are hospitalized with RSV. In addition, wheezing and asthma have been identified in children 10 years after experiencing RSV infection in infancy (Pullan CR, Hey EN. wheezing, asthma, and pulmonary dysfunction 10 years after infection with respiratory syncytial virus in infancy. BMJ. 1982; 284:1665-1669). Therefore, many companies have come to realize that the cost of RSV far exceeds the cost of prevention.

If you have any questions about RSV, you are welcome to contact us at PreemieCare via phone at (631) 859-1110 or email us.

For additional information visit the RSV Prevention Information Center or see our RSV Resource page.

P.O. Box 306
(631) 859-1110
East Islip, NY 11730