RS Virus Infection

In the autumn and winter months, children are constantly catching colds. However, if there is pronounced shortness of breath and significant exhaustion, the pediatrician should be consulted immediately to rule out an RS infection. This is especially true for babies and toddlers.

RS Virus Infection

What is RS virus infection?

The respiratory syncytial virus (RS virus) spreads via droplet or smear infection and causes some severe colds and respiratory problems, especially in babies and children up to the age of two.

These manifest themselves in coughing and runny nose with high fever. The virus can spread to the bronchi and cause bronchitis, pneumonia or bronchiolitis there. This disease causes the mucous membrane of the bronchi to swell and causes severe breathing difficulties. See sportingology for Meaning of Bone Cancer in English.

Noticeably fast and superficial breathing are also signs of shortness of breath. The lips and fingernails can be discolored bluish due to insufficient oxygen saturation in the blood. The RS virus usually appears in the winter months and spring. Older children and adults have less pronounced symptoms when infected with the RS virus and usually only become ill slightly.


The causative agents of the RS virus infection are viruses that spread particularly in the months of September to April. They are passed on through smear or droplet infection in daily contact with the baby or toddler and are highly contagious. Since the first signs of the disease only appear later, practically anyone who comes into contact with a child can unknowingly become a carrier.

There are about two to eight days between infection and the onset of the disease. Children whose immune systems are still weakened by an illness that has just been overcome and premature babies are particularly susceptible to an RS infection.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Children in their first year of life often contract an RS virus infection. A permanent formation of antibodies does not take place. Therefore, the immune system is not prepared against reinfection in the years that follow. The upper and lower airways are affected by the inflammatory disease.

Throat, mouth and nose, but also bronchi or lungs are part of it. Physicians refer to outbreaks in the bronchi as RSV bronchiolitis. The first symptoms appear after about three days of incubation. Elevated body temperature and difficulty breathing are the main characteristic features. In addition to an accelerated breathing rate with rales, a cough with mucous sputum accompanies the disease.

Sometimes those affected find it extremely difficult to breathe. Children can also develop severe coughing fits similar to whooping cough. Due to the high loss of fluid, dry, hypothermic and colorless skin also manifests itself. Newborns sometimes have a sunken fontanelle. The remaining symptoms are similar to those of influenza with a general feeling of illness, tiredness and a low need to drink and eat.

The severity of the infection tends to be reduced in adults. Nevertheless, the range of complaints remains very variable. Extremely mild cases in otherwise healthy patients are also referred to as silent RSV infections. Otherwise, runny nose, dry cough and sore throat dominate the clinical picture.

Severe spreads are still possible, but remain relatively rare. A special and dangerous unique selling point primarily poses a danger to life in premature babies: the RS virus increasingly tends to cause breathing to be interrupted or even come to a complete standstill.

Diagnosis & History

Since an RS virus infection is particularly dangerous for babies and small children, a pediatrician must be consulted immediately in the event of a cold that is accompanied by massive breathing problems. This is especially the case if the child shows a significantly poorer drinking behavior.

The doctor can rule out this dangerous infection with a blood test . In the case of a severe course with impairment of the respiratory tract, it is necessary to admit the child to the hospital in order to ensure constant monitoring of the respiratory function.

In addition to the RS virus infection, there is often an infection with bacteria, which can be life-threatening, so that ventilation is necessary. In order to prevent dehydration (drying out), a stomach tube is placed in this case to ensure an adequate supply of nutrients.


RS virus infection can lead to severe complications in some at-risk patients. The risk is particularly high in newborns and babies in their first year of life. Infants and toddlers always have a fever up to a temperature of 38 to 39.5 degrees. Infants also suffer from coughing, difficulty breathing and a runny nose.

Difficulty breathing often also causes poor drinking, which can lead to dehydration. Young children are also at risk of developing acute bronchiolitis. This leads to severe shortness of breath, which can even be fatal. The affected children must be supplied with sufficient oxygen via an oxygen mask. Parenteral nutrition is used to ensure that the respiratory tract is not irritated by possible aspiration of leftover food.

Otherwise there is a risk of superinfection with bacteria, which can even be fatal. Pseudocroup develops as a complication in about five percent of children. Babies are even at risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome. Premature babies and children with cystic fibrosis or heart and lung diseases are particularly at risk. However, RS virus infection is not unique to infants and young children.

All other age groups can also be affected. In adulthood, the disease is usually mild or even asymptomatic. However, there are high-risk patients who can develop serious complications. These risk groups include people who suffer from cardiovascular diseases, people with a weakened immune system or people with Down syndrome.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of the RS virus depends on the symptoms that occur. In mild cases, the administration of nasal sprays and medication to widen the bronchi and liquefy the mucus can help alleviate the breathing difficulties.

Inhaling with a saline solution is also helpful, but it must always be done with the necessary caution and under supervision with babies and small children. It is important to offer the child enough to drink during the illness and not to lie completely flat in bed. A pillow in the back area makes breathing easier. Babies under the age of six months are often admitted to the hospital, however, because they are more likely to develop serious illnesses.

In the hospital, they can receive additional oxygen or, in an emergency, be given short-term ventilation. The use of antibiotics is only relevant if there has been an additional infection with bacteria, since these drugs have no effect on viral diseases such as RS virus infection.


There is currently no vaccination against RS virus infection that is available to all children. For cost reasons, only children from special risk groups can be vaccinated. In addition to the cost aspect, this immunization is also very complex because it has to be repeated monthly.

To prevent infection, everyone who comes into contact with babies and small children should ensure adequate hand hygiene. These should be washed with warm water and soap for at least a minute. If the parents have a cold, contact should be limited. It is also advisable to wear a face mask to avoid RS virus infection.


The RS virus is transmitted from person to person by droplet or smear infection. There is no direct therapy or chemoprophylaxis against these viruses, only the symptoms can be treated. Passive immunization with monoclonal antibodies is only recommended for high-risk patients such as premature babies, people with a previous pulmonary or cardinal disease or immunocompromised patients.

The protective effect begins after the 1st vaccination dose, but only reaches the full maximum effect after the second administered dose. Since the disease can recur even after an infection has gone through, strict hygiene regulations should be observed for aftercare, especially in the case of groups of people at risk. These include: washing your hands frequently, coughing and sneezing not into your hands but into the crook of your arm. People suffering from the virus should avoid communal facilities during the infectious period and regularly clean and disinfect used objects, such as toys.

The generally recommended vaccination status should also be checked and, if necessary, refreshed to avoid further complications such as co-infections. Since the RS virus infection usually affects the bronchial system, the symptoms of the so-called hyperreactive bronchial system can remain even after the disease has subsided. This in turn increases the risk of developing asthma. Therapy is therefore also aimed at suppressing this complex of symptoms with anti-inflammatory and/or bronchodilator drugs.

You can do that yourself

Infants and children affected by RS virus infection urgently need medical attention. The younger the child, the more dangerous the infection can be. If a severe course of the disease is announced, the parents should take their child to a hospital, where it can be supplied with liquids and oxygen if necessary. Respiratory syncytial virus (RS virus) is highly contagious and can infect anyone, including adults. Like most viral infections, it can only be treated symptomatically. This means that the individual symptoms such as sore throat, cough, runny nose, bronchitis and fever should be alleviated accordingly.

In the case of a mild course of the disease, a nasal spray that reduces the swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose is sufficient. If the disease is more severe, the doctor will recommend drugs that thin mucus and help cough it up. It is important that the patient drinks a lot. Chicken soup is also recommended. It warms from the inside and its hot steam moistens the mucous membranes. The soup also contains cysteine, a protein that has an anti-inflammatory and decongestant effect. Calf wraps are a gentle way to bring down the temperature, as cold wraps draw heat away from the body. Salt or chamomile inhalations have also proven effective. The hot steam clears your nose and soothes irritated mucous membranes.

Since the RS virus infection is often associated with shortness of breath, it is advisable to elevate the patient slightly. This makes breathing easier.