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Father and Son

Common Respiratory Illnesses

The most common respiratory virus for premature babies - RSV - the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infection.

Respiratory viruses are a common worry for parents of premature babies. Sometimes, premature babies with a respiratory illness must be re-admitted to the hospital. The CPBF has resources to help parents learn about common causes of respiratory illness, including RSV.

RSV in Infants

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of respiratory illness in babies. Below, you will find resources all about RSV and babies. Be sure to check the "questions and answers" for answers to common questions about RSV and babies.

  • What is RSV?
    RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. RSV is like a cold. Most babies will get an RSV cold in the first year of their life, often during the fall and winter months.
  • How can I keep my baby from getting RSV?
    Always wash your hands with soap and water before you touch your baby. Also wash your hands after you have used a tissue to blow your nose, sneezed, or coughed. Do not smoke or let others smoke around your baby. Keep your baby away from anyone who is sick. If you are sick, do not kiss your baby. Keep your baby away from crowded places, day-care centers, shopping malls, and large family gatherings. Ask your healthcare provider if your baby would benefit from a medicine that prevents RSV.
  • How do babies get RSV?
    RSV infection is spread by germs contained in droplets on our hands. This happens when someone sneezes, coughs, or touches their nose or face when they are sick.
  • How sick can my baby get if he or she gets RSV?
    Most babies get a bad cold. Other babies, especially those babies born very premature, who have breathing problems, and who have certain types of heart problems, can become very sick. This is because the RSV infection can go to the lungs, and a chest infection called bronchiolitis and/or pneumonia develops. If this happens, your baby will have to go to the hospital. Some babies with RSV need oxygen or breathing assistance.
  • How will I know if my baby has an RSV infection?
    At first, your baby may have a runny nose. If the RSV gets worse, your baby may: Have a fever Start to cough Have problems with breathing Make a whistling or wheezing noise when breathing Breathe very fast or work hard to breathe Have trouble feeding
  • What should I do if my baby gets sick?
    Always call your baby's healthcare provider if your baby seems sick, is not eating well, is irritable, and has a runny nose. If your baby has a fever or a cough go to the hospital. If your baby looks blue, or has difficulty breathing, or stops breathing, call 911.
Parent letter

Parent Letter

In collaboration with parents, we have created a letter to download, adapt and share with your family and friends. The letter is helpful in explaining to everyone why you are being extra careful when you bring your preemie home.

Download Parent  letter (Microsoft Word 16 KB)


Tune into "With You in the NICU" podcasts to hear from experts, who will discuss many of the questions and concerns NICU parents often have.

Preemie Chats

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Free online events covering a host of Preemie-focused topics

New! Parent Handbook

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CBPF Parent Handbook, "Common Respiratory Ilnesses: Reducing the Risk"

This parent handbook was carefully developed by healthcare experts in the field of neonatal care. The information about common respiratory illnesses (including RSV) is thoughtfully presented in consultation with parents of preemie babies. See a page here.

PDF format 978 KB (16 pages)

New! Infographic: Why Premature Babies are more at Risk

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Premature babies are at higher risk of becoming very sick. Read why.

Respiratory viruses bring us familiar cold symptoms that last a few days to a week for most people, but these same viruses may cause more serious illness in babies. Premature babies are at higher risk of becoming very sick. 

PDF format 422 KB (1 page)

RSV Injection Criteria

RSV injections are not vaccines; they are antibodies which help protect high-risk babies from RSV. Eligibility criteria is based on recommendations by the Canadian Pediatric Society and the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Immunization Guide. ​Each province has its own eligibility criteria. Please see the individual links for more information.

New! RSV Survey Report

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2023 National Survey Report on RSV (Summary)

NEW! 2023 National Survey Report on RSV (Summary)
Parental Understanding of RSV and RSV Infection.

What has changed since our first survey in 2020?

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2020 National Survey Report on RSV (Summary)

A parent survey providing us with their understanding about RSV and respiratory illnesses, and their experience of obtaining this information. The results are very revealing. 

RSV Information Sheets in other Languages

What you need to know about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).  17 Languages

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Preemie Podcasts
Preemie Chats
Parent Handbook
RSV Infographic
RSV Injection Criteria
Survey Report
Multi Info sheets
Sneak Peek

A Sneak Peek from the New Parent Handbook of Common Respiratory Ilnesses: Reducing the Risk

Why preemies are at risk of becoming more sick with RSV:

Immature lungs. The lungs are among the last organs to develop before birth. Antibodies are proteins made in the body by a special type of white blood cell. They protect against viruses and bacteria that can make us sick, and help us to fight infections.


Protective antibodies that fight infection are passed from the mother across the placenta, mostly in the last few months of pregnancy. The premature baby misses out on the full amount of these antibodies and may also have difficulty producing their own.


For more information, visit

Eligibility Requirements

RSV Injection Criteria

Eligibility criteria is based on recommendations by the Canadian Pediatric Society and the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Immunization Guide. Each province and territory has its own eligibility criteria which varies. Choose your province to read the guidelines. If you have further questions, speak to your baby's doctor.


Free! Webinar: Common Winter Illnesses

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