Cough and sniffle season is here and it appears to be hitting kiddos especially hard this year. Data from the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene shows southern Wisconsin still has high levels of RSV. Health care facilities are reporting high numbers of cases and we are getting many RSV-related calls from childcare facilities. While increases of RSV is not unusual during the winter months, it is happening earlier than usual this year. Read on to learn everything you need to know:

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. It’s very common, but affects some more seriously than others.

RSV causes an infection of the lungs and breathing passages. It enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. It spreads easily through infected droplets when someone coughs or sneezes or through contact with contaminated surfaces.

RSV itself is quite common and usually causes mild symptoms similar to a cold. Most people recover in a week or two. In fact, according to the CDC, virtually all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old. However, the virus can become dangerous for infants and older adults and in some cases can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia. The CDC says RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of one, in the US.

It can be hard to know if it’s RSV, especially early on in the illness.

Because RSV presents very similar to a common cold in adults and older kids, symptoms can be hard to detect, making it easy to spread to those who are more vulnerable. Early symptoms of RSV in babies and younger children include things like runny nose, decreased appetite, sneezing, and cough. In infants, it could also be irritability, decreased activity, and apnea.

If you’re a parent, and your child is sick, consider keeping them home from school and childcare if:

  • They have a fever of 101°F or higher with other symptoms
  • If they’re too sick to participate in routine childcare programming.

There is no specific medication or vaccine for RSV, but there are ways to treat the symptoms.

In their recent news release, UW Health advises parents to treat their child’s respiratory symptoms at home, if possible. Some examples include proper mucus suction, hydration, and anti-fever medication. Call your child’s primary care doctor or nurse on-call line before bringing the child into urgent care or the hospital.

One major warning sign your child needs immediate medical attention is if you notice they are struggling to breathe or using their neck or shoulders to breathe.

RSV isn’t the only contagious virus circulating. Prevention is key.

We’re also seeing cases of influenza, and of course, COVID-19. If we see major increases of all three viruses at the same time, we can expect to see a strain on our health care systems.

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days and can spread the illness before showing any symptoms. Because the virus can also survive on hard surfaces for hours, it’s important to remember basic hygiene:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Keep your hands off your face
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces

The bottom line…

With respiratory viruses like RSV, influenza, and COVID circulating, this respiratory season has the potential to be severe, especially for young children and older adults. You can make your winter less miserable by taking the time to understand these viruses, be aware of the warning signs, and protecting yourself against the respiratory illnesses that have a vaccine. Visit to find appointments to get your COVID and flu vaccine.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.