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On Call: A Tricky Virus

Q. How do I know whether my baby might have RSV or if it's just a cold?

A. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your baby has RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, which is common roughly between October and March. While adults and healthy children who catch it may just get the symptoms of a moderate to bad cold, babies under the age of 6 months (especially those born prematurely) and children with health problems (primarily asthma or other lung disease) can get quite sick. In these kids, RSV can cause pneumonia and wheezing  -- severe enough, sometimes, to require hospitalization.

If your baby has a bad cough or any trouble breathing you should bring her to the doctor, who might decide to test for RSV (secretions collected from the back of the nose are tested). Don't panic if it comes back positive. The majority of children with RSV don't need to be hospitalized and do fine with rest and fever medication.

RSV is spread through contact with the saliva and mucus of people who have the virus, so wash hands frequently, don't share cups and utensils, and wipe shared toys.