Is your child sick with RSV? Here’s how to tell.

As of Oct. 26, the UW Medicine Virology Lab had detected nearly 90 cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in samples from throughout the Puget Sound region.

Sparrow Helland, a registered nurse and the assistant nurse manager of the Pediatric Clinic at Harborview, says the clinic is receiving an increase in calls and visits from families concerned about RSV.

“Usually during this time of year, for Octobers previous to 2020, we maybe had zero to three cases testing positive. Right now, in the community and particularly in our clinic, it is significantly more,” said Helland. “Those at greatest risk are under 2 years of age.”

Children born prematurely or with underlying lung or cardiovascular conditions may be at a higher risk of serious illness if they contract RSV. Helland estimated that only about 1% of all RSV cases end up requiring hospital admission. Most infections resolve on their own in a week or two.

Common symptoms parallel other respiratory viruses and can include fever, coughing and congestion. Symptoms specific to RSV include secretions draining from a child’s nose and a sudden loss of appetite or drop in activity level.

“Pale (skin) is an early warning sign, so if you're noticing that your child's color is off, that means get help,” Helland said. “Some things that would lead us to believe they need a (hospital) admission are high fever, lethargy, difficulty breathing, oxygen need, the inability to maintain their hydration or keeping up with their mealtimes. Also, if their urine output is decreased. Those are all concerns.”

Helland discourages giving cough drops to children with RSV symptoms because the drops can suppress the ability to clear mucus, which is a top priority during home treatment. She says a pediatrician or healthcare provider can help determine if your child is ill with RSV or another respiratory virus, and then map out a course of care.

In broadcast-ready soundbites, Helland outlines tools and methods for parents with children whose RSV cases can be treated at home.

For more information about the virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s RSV resource page.

UW Medicine