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Protecting babies and children from RSV

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What is RSV?

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is a germ that can cause colds and lung infections in young children. It is very common, causing infections in about half of all babies under a year old during their first winter. Most of the time, it causes a mild cold. But it can also cause more serious lung infections like bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis leads to swelling and more mucous in the breathing tubes, making breathing much harder. Bronchiolitis is a leading cause of hospital stays for babies.

How is RSV spread?

RSV is easy to catch. It is spread by coughing, sneezing or touching objects that have been touched by a sick person (like toys, computer keyboards or hands). RSV can get into our bodies through our mouths, noses or eyes.

Protecting children from RSV

Some babies and children can get much sicker than others if they get an RSV infection. Children at high risk for getting very sick with RSV should have palivizumab (Synagis®). We give palivizumab in our RSV Prophylaxis (prevention) clinic. Some community doctors also give it. In Ontario, children who are eligible for Palivizumab include:

  • Very premature babies less than 32 weeks gestation, born after May 1st
  • Premature babies, 33-35 weeks gestation, born after May 1st, who meet screening guidelines
  • Children less than 24 months with certain heart or lung problems
  • Children less than 24 months who have immune system problems
  • Children less than 24 months with Down Syndrome


Synagis® will help prevent your child from getting very sick from RSV infection. We will give Synagis®:

  • Through a needle into your child’s upper leg
  • Every 4 weeks (up to 5 injections between November and March).

Serious side effects are rare. Your child may have some brief redness or tenderness at the injection site.

Other ways to prevent RSV

Receiving palivizumab is important. It will also help if you

  • Clean your hands often with an alcohol hand gel or soap and water (especially before feeding or touching your baby)
  • Clean your hands after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing into your hand
  • Keep your baby away from people who are sick
  • Keep your baby away from crowded places like shopping malls, daycare centres or large family gatherings
  • Teach family members and friends to cough and sneeze into their elbow
  • Carefully clean things your baby will touch (like toys, books, pacifiers)
  • Keep your home smoke free

If your baby is sick

Bring your baby to hospital if your baby:

  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Has a very bad or ‘choking’ cough
  • Can’t seem to catch her breath
  • Is breathing faster than usual
  • Is taking very small breaths
  • Has a weak cry
  • Has pale or blue lips
  • Doesn’t wake up easily
  • Is not feeding well
  • Has fewer wet diapers than usual

Want more info?

Canadian Pediatric Society  

CHEO follow the link to ‘Programs Health Info’ A-Z, then ‘Bronchiolitis’ or ‘BPD’

CHEO RSV Clinic: 613-737-7600 extension 2406  

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