RSV: What is it and why it still haunts our family 3 years later

A flood of emotions overcome me as I look at my 5 week old baby. The flashbacks of Adam at this exact age still haunt me.

Just three years ago, Adam was hooked up to dozens of machines at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for several days. I was clutching to a little boy who was fighting for his life.

During the last 3 years, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) has become a common household name at the Irelands. Before Adam, we had never heard of it. In fact, many parents still have no idea what RSV is.

Here are some quick hitting facts:

What is RSV?

  • RSV is a common, and very contagious, virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday. For most babies and young children, the infection causes nothing more than a cold. But for some babies, like Adam, it can potentially be deadly.

Who can get RSV?

  • RSV can strike anyone! It has a potentially deadly effect on anyone, however those at highest risk are:
  • Premature infants
  • Young children who have congenital heart or lung disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Infants in crowded child care settings or with older siblings in school
  • Elderly
  • Adults with asthma, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

How dangerous is RSV?

  • RSV is the #1 cause of hospitalizations for children under the age of 2 in the United States.
  • It is the 2nd leading cause of death for infants worldwide, behind malaria.

What does RSV look like?

Mild cases:

  • Congested or runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

Severe cases like our 5 week old Adam:

  • Fever
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing — a high-pitched noise that’s usually heard on breathing out (exhaling)
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Visible rib cage with labored breathing
  • V-like shape under the chin
  • Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen
  • Poor feeding
  • Unusual tiredness (lethargy)
  • Irritability

Can RSV be prevented?
This is really hard for families with multiple children. Trust me, I know from experience. In our case, Luke got RSV first from preschool. He was 3 years old at the time, he passed it down to Eden who was 2 years old, she passed it down to Adam who was just a few weeks old. When you have lots of children living under one roof, it’s so challenging to keep them isolated. I get it!

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid exposure. Limit your infant’s contact with people who have fevers or colds. Especially during those first 2 months of life.
  • Sanitize.
  • Don’t share drinking glasses with others.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Wash toys regularly.
  • Don’t let anyone kiss your baby!

When is RSV season?

  • RSV season typically starts in our region (the Midwest) in mid-September and runs to April.
  • See attached photo to see when RSV is especially dangerous where you live.

Are there long-lasting effects of RSV? 

YES! In fact, some of those long-lasting effects may not even present themselves until a couple years later. That’s what we are facing this fall with Adam.

Adam has had a pretty chronic cough for weeks. It presents itself at night and keeps him up. We took him to the doctor this week where we were given a breathing treatment and a nebulizer for home. I’m actually surprised we didn’t already have one, but this is really the first season we’ve seen some pretty significant complications from the RSV.

Another complication we face is his eczema. Why eczema? Well, eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin and carries similar properties to inflammatory respiratory problems.

It’s still too soon to tell if Adam will have asthma, for now he doesn’t require daily treatment, but that could all change. I also know lots of children have more severe respiratory problems as a result of RSV.

Here are some other long-lasting effects:

  • Asthma. There may be a link between severe respiratory syncytial virus in children and the chance of developing asthma later in life.
  • Repeated infections. Once you’ve had RSV, it’s common for the infection to come back. It’s even possible for it to happen during the same RSV season.
  • Recurrent wheezing.

October is RSV Awareness Month and this October is especially spooky for us as we have an infant at home. I’m extremely cautious of who comes in contact with our baby, because RSV has completely changed the way I parent.

I like to share our story to keep you informed and to help build awareness around this Really Scary Virus. I also want you to know that if you have any questions about RSV I am here for you! If you are a parent with a child who has had RSV or is currently battling it, you are NOT alone!

I receive dozens of messages from RSV parents sharing their stories, their frustrations, their fears. It’s a scary virus that no one should have to experience alone. My hope is to one day create a solid resource for parents to find answers and support.

In the meantime, I am always here for moral support and I can help answer any questions you may have.

You can always send me a DM on Instagram @shanistyireland or send an email to

Do you have an RSV story to share? Comment below!

Long Lasting Effects of RSV
Adam has respiratory problems and eczema from RSV
2016 Adam at 5 & 6 weeks old with RSV


RSV season per region

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