We all know that the flu season is especially difficult this season, but there's another virus that mamas should be aware of. Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is a respiratory cold virus, causing discomfort to the nose, throat and lungs. In adults, RSV symptoms are mild and resemble the common cold, but each year in the U.S., an estimated 57,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection, and the numbers are growing.

But, don't fret mama. Here's what you should know about RSV and how you can protect your little one:

What exactly is RSV?

RSV is a virus that causes colds and upper and lower respiratory infections.

RSV is most dangerous for babies under 12 weeks of age or who were born prematurely, have chronic lung disease, certain heart defects or weakened immune systems due to illness or medical treatments.

Like the flu, RSV season occurs each year in most regions of the U.S and is highly contagious.

RSV is highest during fall, winter and spring seasons.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with RSV often have cough and congestion, but can also experience labored breathing and wheezing. In outpatient pediatrician offices, we diagnose RSV infections primarily by performing a physical exam. We can test for RSV using a small nasal swab as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Cough, which may progress to wheezing

In very young infants (younger than 6 months old), the only symptoms of RSV infection may be:

  • Irritability
  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Apnea (pauses while breathing)

How can mamas care for kids with RSV?

Unfortunately, RSV is a virus so it doesn't respond to antibiotics. Instead, gently suctioning snot from the nose after administering nasal saline spray, using a cool-mist humidifier, and focusing on hydration are the most important ways parents can care for their kids after an RSV diagnosis.

In an extreme case, sometimes, patients will have so much difficulty with RSV that they require oxygen to help with breathing or an IV to assure they get enough liquids. Though hospitalization is not the norm, it can happen.

RSV is preventable:

If you have contact with an infant or young child, take extra steps to keep the infant healthy by taking proper precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently
    According to the CDC, adults should wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your coughs + sneezes
    Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve when coughing or sneezing. It's also good practice to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Disinfect surfaces
    Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects children frequently touch, such as toys and doorknobs. When people infected with RSV touch surfaces and objects, they can leave behind germs.
  • Stay home when you are sick
    It's pretty obvious but very important. If possible, stay home from work, school and public areas when you are sick