RS virus in babies: what to do if my child has an RSV infection?

Around two thirds of all babies are infected with the RS virus in their first year of life. Almost every child had it by the time they were two years old. While RS virus is harmless to adults, it can be dangerous to babies and premature babies. The MomaSquad editors asked Dr. Thomas Fischbach, pediatrician and board member of the professional association of pediatricians, how you can protect your baby from the virus and what precautionary measures you can take.

What is the RS virus?

With the help of its special surface structure, the RS virus (Respratory Syncytial Virus) adheres to your child’s airway cells and connects with them. The merging of the cells infected with the RS virus creates large viral cell units that make your baby sick. The highly contagious RS virus is particularly active between September and April. It is transmitted via droplets, such as sneezing or coughing, and through physical contact, such as caressing, cuddling, or touching infected surfaces.

RS virus and children at risk

In general, children who are younger than two years old belong to the group for which the RS virus can have serious consequences. So-called risk children are particularly at risk, i.e. especially premature babies and children with lung or heart diseases.

According to pediatrician Dr. Thomas Fischbach, head of the professional association of paediatricians, therefore counts premature babies among the risk children because they have insufficient nest protection, i.e. insufficient loan antibodies from the mother against infectious diseases. The immune system of premature babies is still very immature. In addition, some organs of premature babies are not yet fully functional. In particular, the not yet fully developed lungs and the incompletely developed immune system make premature babies more susceptible to respiratory infections such as the RS virus. They also make it more difficult to overcome the infection. It is therefore important that you recognize the symptoms of the RS virus quickly in order to be able to act immediately.

Consequences of an RS virus infection

Healthy adults and children over the age of two are often only mildly affected by RS virus infection. An acute infection usually manifests itself as a cold, combined with a runny nose or fever. In children younger than two years old, and especially in babies younger than six months, RS virus infection can be more serious. Infection with the RS virus manifests itself in your baby through a runny nose , coughing , high fever and breathing difficulties. If the infection spreads to the respiratory tract, it can lead to severe bronchitis, pneumonia or bronchiolitis (inflammation of the smallest bronchi). These inflammations can often only be adequately treated in hospital. The risk of the infection having long-term consequences is particularly high for the youngest. How serious the consequences of infection with the RS virus are and how the infection progresses depends primarily on the state of health of your child.

RS virus symptoms

dr Fischbach describes the symptoms of RS virus infection as follows:

  • Tormenting cough , possibly with expectoration of mucus
  • Difficult breathing with secondary breathing noises such as whistling
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Fever
  • breathing problems
  • Striking pallor and a slightly bluish tint to the lips

If your baby or child shows any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately.


In the case of an acute infection with the RS virus, only the symptoms and not the specific cause, i.e. the virus itself, can be treated to this day. To protect your baby from infection as much as possible, you can take the following precautionary and preventive measures:

  • Hygiene: It is very important that you wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least a minute before touching your baby. Your friends, relatives and acquaintances should also wash their hands thoroughly before touching your baby.
  • Physical contact: Avoid your baby coming into contact with people who have a cold or an infectious disease. Even strangers should not necessarily touch or caress your child – even if it is intended to be nice.
  • Crowds of people: The risk of infection with the RS virus is greatly increased in large crowds. Therefore, you should avoid large shopping malls, family reunions or day care centers between September and April, especially if your child falls into the risk group.
  • Cleanliness: Since the RS virus can survive for up to several hours on the surfaces of objects of all kinds, you should ensure maximum cleanliness. In particular, frequently used surfaces such as tables, countertops, bathroom fixtures and toys should be cleaned regularly.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke is not only harmful to your child’s health, but also increases the risk of them contracting the RS virus. If an acute infection is already present, tobacco smoke can make your child’s condition even worse.

Learn more about how to prevent RS virus from our articles Boosting Your Child’s Immune System , Protecting Your Child From Infection , and Staying Healthy With Eating The Right Diet .

Preventive measures against the RS virus

To protect your baby from infection with the RS virus, there is a so-called immune prophylaxis. This is a medicinal protection that supports your baby’s immature immune system. This is done with the help of passive immunization, whereby your child’s body is injected with the appropriate antibody. In contrast to an active immunization, your child’s body does not have to produce the antibody itself, but the administered antibody can recognize and fight the RS virus immediately. The antibody is injected by a doctor and takes place once a month during the RS virus season, i.e. from September to April. Since your baby’s body breaks down and excretes the antibody over time, regular injections are necessary. This is the only way to ensure that your child has enough of the antibody to fight the virus. However, passive immunization against RS virus is only recommended for children at risk who could suffer serious consequences from RS virus infection. Statutory health insurance companies cover the costs of treatment for children at risk. If you are privately insured, clarify the assumption of costs with your health insurance company.

Are there side effects of passive immunization against RS virus?

According to pediatrician Dr. Fischbach rarely occurs because the monoclonal antibody against the RS virus is generally well tolerated. However, the usual vaccination consequences such as fever, restlessness, redness and swelling at the injection site and diarrhea can occur. Allergic reactions, on the other hand, are very rare. If your child falls into the risk group, then the decision for or against the passive vaccination is entirely up to you. However, it is best to seek advice from your treating pediatrician.

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