Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) for a 5-Year-Old? Yep!

For those of you who don't know what RSV is, it stands for respiratory syncytial virus and it can be nasty stuff.

Mild symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus

Usually, it mimics a mild cold and has the following symptoms:1

  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Low-grade fever

Does not sound that bad, right? Like a cold, you can do the basics – give your child fluids, fever reducer, breathing treatments with the nebulizer, and cuddle up on the couch.

How do kids get respiratory syncytial virus?

Respiratory syncytial virus is so common that most babies have had it by the time they are 2. This is mostly thanks to older siblings who get sick or sick kids at daycare. RSV is highly contagious and your child can catch it by just being around someone who coughs or sneezes (which is pretty much everywhere in winter!).

The virus can also live for hours on hard surfaces like toys, countertops, doorknobs, etc. So if your baby touches their eyes, nose, or mouth after touching one of those – bingo! They have just infected themselves.

When do you need to worry?

Most healthy babies and adults can fight off RSV. But sometimes it can spread to the lower lungs (especially when you have asthma) and it can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia. And that is very dangerous. In fact, of the 12 times my kids were hospitalized with asthma, it was almost always because of pneumonia.2,3

Severe symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus

How can you tell if it's a mild case? Or more severe – and you need to worry? Mayo Clinic lists the following severe symptoms:1

  • Unusually tired
  • Rapid breathing (sound like panting) or difficult breathing
  • Not eating well
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing (a sort of squeal when they exhale)
  • Irritable
  • Fever
  • Blue/purple color on the lips and fingernails
  • Pale/grey color to skin
  • Chest muscles and skin pulling in with every breath (retractions)

Mayo Clinic also says:1

"Severe or life-threatening infection requiring a hospital stay may occur in premature babies or infants and adults who have chronic heart or lung problems."

Does this only happen in babies?

Notice the quote only mentions babies and older adults? Well, it's not just babies – older kids can get respiratory syncytial virus too. This is especially true if they have an underlying lung problem like asthma. Asthma makes it harder to fight a virus, and they can end up in the hospital. That's what happened to my middle son when he was 5 years old. Yep, 5. Definitely not a "premature baby, infant, or adult."

I knew something was wrong because my son started out with a cold, but seemed to get worse instead of better. My "mom instinct" told me that something was wrong. Even though I had already taken my son to the doctor, and the doctor diagnosed him with a virus and said it had to "run its course," I felt uneasy. Since it was late at night, I headed to the closest emergency room (ER). I knew asthma complications can be serious.

The triage nurse took one look at my son and rushed him right back to a room to be examined. They did the usual – took a medical history, asked when his symptoms started, took a chest X-ray, blood test, and a nasal swab. What kid doesn't like a swab stuck up their nose?

Respiratory syncytial virus can have serious complications

I wasn't sure what was going on until I saw a group of nurses gathered around looking at my son's chest X-ray in the ER.  As I walked over to the light board to see his X-ray, the nurses scattered. They could clearly see the infection in his lungs. I knew that we weren't going home.

Just then, the ER doc came over and said that incredibly, my son had respiratory syncytial virus – at age 5!  He said that it's very unusual for a 5-year-old child to have RSV so bad that they need to be hospitalized. He said it's usually babies that struggle. But when you have asthma, every respiratory infection is worse!

After a long week in the hospital, my son was discharged and he came home to rest while his lungs finished healing.

Beware of RSV in older children

I want to share this story because every time I read an article warning about the dangers of RSV, they only talk about babies and the elderly. I want to share our story that older children can also get respiratory syncytial virus (especially those with asthma)! They can also be sick enough to be in the hospital for a week.

Trust your instinct. If you think something isn't quite right with your child, and they have any of the severe symptoms listed above, call your doctor as soon as possible or go to the nearest ER.

You could save your child's life.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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