Common hospital treatments for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection

A child with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection who is having difficulty breathing or is dehydrated may need hospitalization and some of the following treatments:

  • Fluids given through a vein (intravenous, or IV). Extra fluids may be needed if the child is not able to drink enough liquids to help prevent dehydration.
  • Oxygen. The child may be given oxygen by means of a hood, tent, face mask, or nosepiece (nasal cannula) to make breathing easier.
  • Medicines to relax and widen the breathing tubes (bronchodilators). Bronchodilators make it easier to move air in and out of the lungs and are given through a nebulizer or an inhaler with a face mask. However, the use of bronchodilators is controversial. Research so far has not shown consistent long-term benefit for most children. Because it is possible for some children to improve from bronchodilators, they are sometimes recommended for severely ill children who are older than 6 months of age.1
  • Antiviral medicine (ribavirin). This is given in a mist through a hood, tent, or face mask. This medicine may be used for children who have an increased risk of having serious complications from RSV infection. However, ribavirin has not shown consistent effectiveness and may make RSV and its complications worse in some people. For these reasons, it is rarely used.
  • Mechanical ventilator. If a child becomes unable to breathe without help, a ventilator may be used. This is very rare. Children who are sick enough to need a ventilator are placed in an intensive care unit.


  1. Hall CB (2004). Respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 5th ed., vol. 2, chap. 185A, pp. 2315–2341. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Last Updated: July 16, 2008

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