Infant Illnesses | Spotlight on Respiratory Syncytial Virus

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Does your baby have a cough that just won't let up? (Original image: FreshSplash/Getty Images)
Does your baby have a cough that just won't let up? (Original image: FreshSplash/Getty Images)
  • Has your baby developed a runny nose and constant cough?
  • The cause may be respiratory syncytial virus, an extremely common infection which attacks the lungs and looks a lot like the common cold. 
  • A local expert says the infection is particularly dangerous for premature babies. 

Having a newborn baby is overwhelming enough, but if they show signs of illness, it can be really scary.

At Parent24, we've put together a series on common infant illnesses to help guide you when baby is sick.

And we'll help you to decide when you should actually panic (it's probably not as serious as you think, but let's be sure!).

Catch more instalments of our #infantillness series here

A typical concern

"My five-month-old baby has developed a runny nose and a cough that just won't go away. It seems to get better at times so I haven't been to see a doctor but the symptoms remain. Starting to worry now. What should I do?" 


Your baby might have respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a fairly common infection which presents persistent symptoms not unlike the common cold.

"Unfortunately, most visceral respiratory illnesses develop and look very similar. There is no easy way to tell them apart," explains paediatrician Dr Iqbal Karbanee, founder of the local prescription-based helpline Paed-IQ BabyLine.

And while common Dr Karbanee tells Parent24 "younger children, toddlers and babies are particularly vulnerable" to RSV.

Symptoms to look out for

  • Secretions from the nose
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing

"Younger children get symptoms that are more severe and may develop bronchiolitis or pneumonia," Dr Karbanee says.

How long will it last?

Dr Karbanee tells us RSV can be quite a tough infection to get rid of and can last up to a month.

"RSV has sometimes been called the 100-day cough. It can cause secretions that last for weeks and weeks. Think of that cold that you cannot shake off; the one that improves but weeks later, you still have a post-nasal drip. A case like this would most likely be RSV".

How is it spread?

"RSV is typically droplet spread from hand-to-hand contact and through contaminated surfaces. The single best measure to stop the spread of RSV is handwashing".


Thankfully, the infection can be treated at home in cases where symptoms are very mild and which do not include breathing or chest troubles.

"Good temperature control is important, as is making sure the child is well hydrated," Dr Karbanee advises.

When to call the doctor?

As soon as there is any indication of breathing issues, a doctor's visit should be scheduled "as soon as possible", Dr Karbanee says, warning that RSV is particularly dangerous in premature babies.

"The main area of concern for parents is when the virus causes chest complications. Any change in the child's condition that indicates this is happening should alert the parent to see a doctor".

Tips and mom advice

"Prevention is the best measure with emphasis on handwashing". 

You can also ask a doctor or paediatrician directly via Health24 here: Ask an Expert 


Share your stories and questions with us via email at Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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