RSV in Infants and Young Children

What to know

  • RSV can be dangerous for infants and some young children.
  • RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S.
  • Immunizations can protect babies from getting very sick from RSV.
Infant lying down on blanket, coughing.


RSV can be dangerous for infants and some young children. Each year in the United States, an estimated 58,000-80,000 children younger than 5 years are hospitalized due to RSV infection. Children at greatest risk for severe illness from RSV include the following:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants up to 12 months, especially those 6 months and younger
  • Children younger than 2 years with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions

Symptoms of RSV in infants and young children

RSV may not be severe when it first starts. However, it can become more severe a few days into the illness. Early symptoms of RSV may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Eating or drinking less
  • Cough, which may progress to wheezing or difficulty breathing

RSV in Very Young Infants

Infants who get an RSV infection almost always show symptoms. This is different from adults, who can sometimes get RSV infections and not have symptoms. In very young infants (less than 6 months old), the symptoms of RSV infection may include:

  • Irritability
  • Decreased activity
  • Eating or drinking less
  • Apnea (pauses in breathing for more than 10 seconds)

Fever may not always occur with RSV infections.

Severe RSV

Virtually all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old. Most of the time RSV causes a mild, cold-like illness, but it can also cause severe illness such as:

  • Bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung)
  • Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)

Some children are at increased risk of severe RSV disease, including those who were born prematurely, or who have chronic lung or heart disease or a weakened immune system.

Two to three out of every 100 infants with RSV infection may need to be hospitalized. Those who are hospitalized may require oxygen, IV fluids (if they aren't eating and drinking), and mechanical ventilation (a machine to help with breathing). Most improve with this type of supportive care and are discharged in a few days.

When to seek emergency care‎

Call your healthcare provider if your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.


Antiviral medication is not routinely recommended to fight infection. Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two. However, RSV can cause severe illness in some people.

Take steps to relieve symptoms

  • Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Never give aspirin to children.)
  • Drink enough fluids. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not good for children.

Immunizations to protect infants from severe RSV

CDC recommends you use one of these two tools to protect your baby from getting very sick with RSV:

Most infants will not need both.

A downloadable fact sheet describing how to protect your child from RSV infection.
This fact sheet describes how to protect your child from RSV infection.

RSV in Infants and Young Children | En español