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Father and Son

Breathing Problems & RSV: FAQs, Symptoms, Recommendations & Resources

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the most common virus affecting premature babies, and the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infection.

Respiratory viruses are a common worry for parents because premature babies are more at risk. 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.

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  • What is RSV?
    Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a virus that causes cold and flu-like illness. For most healthy adults, RSV might feel like a cold. But RSV in babies and young children can be more serious.
  • How common is RSV in babies?
    RSV is very common in babies and children. Almost all babies and children will have had an RSV infection by the time they are 2. RSV is most common in the fall and winter months.
  • How do babies get RSV?
    The RSV virus spreads through droplets produced by coughs and sneezes. The most common way we get sick from RSV is by touching our nose, eyes and mouth with germs on our hands. RSV can live on surfaces for many hours. Premature babies are especially at risk of RSV because they have trouble fighting infections.
  • Can I prevent my baby from getting RSV?
    Most babies and young children will get RSV sometime during the first two years of life. It is important to protect all babies, especially premature babies, from RSV as best we can during their first winter. Here are some ways you can help prevent your baby from getting RSV: Always wash your hands with soap and water before you touch your baby. Wash your hands after you blow your nose, sneeze, or cough. Do not smoke or let others smoke around your baby or in your home. 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 such as daycare centers, shopping malls, and large family gatherings. Ask your healthcare provider if your baby should get RSV prevention medicine
  • How sick can my baby get from RSV?
    RSV will cause a bad cold for most babies. Some babies will get very sick from RSV. Babies born very prematurely, with breathing problems, certain heart problems or other medical conditions, are at the highest risk of getting very sick. RSV can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis, serious lung and airway complications. If this happens, most babies need to be admitted to the hospital, and some need oxygen or breathing help.
  • What are the signs and symptoms of RSV in babies?
    Some babies with RSV will only have cold symptoms like a runny nose. Other symptoms of RSV include: Fever Cough Problems with breathing (fast breathing or working hard to breathe) Whistling or wheezing noise when breathing Trouble feeding
  • What should I do if my baby gets sick with a cold?
    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, 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)

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 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 Prevention Injections (RSV prophylaxis)

Some babies may be offered RSV prevention medicine (sometimes called RSV needles or RSV injections). RSV injections are not vaccines but a medicine that gives babies antibodies to stop the RSV virus from making them sick.


Two RSV prevention injections are available in Canada: palivizumab and nirsevimab. Each province and territory in Canada has their own guidelines about which babies should get RSV prevention medicine and which medicine is available. Your baby's healthcare provider can tell you more.


Links to each province and territory guidelines are below.

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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