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Respiratory Viruses: Fact vs. Myth

Published on Nov. 30, 2022

When it comes to colds, the flu and other respiratory viruses common during this time of year, there is no shortage of common misconceptions. Test your knowledge by clicking on a statement below to learn more.

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Myth: Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a virus that causes cold-like symptoms and can become serious for some infants and children. Babies and children with significant medical problems (like prematurity, chronic lung disease, or heart disease) are at highest risk of developing serious symptoms of RSV.

Myth: There is no major medical benefit to getting tested just to know which virus is causing symptoms because it does not change how doctors manage symptoms of a viral respiratory infection.

Myth: Babies younger than 2 months or children with significant health risk factors (central lines, cancer or other immunosuppression) should seek medical attention for fever. Other children can be managed at home unless they have other concerning symptoms.

Myth: Wheezing in bronchiolitis – an infection where the small airways in the lung become inflamed – is different than the wheezing in asthma. Breathing treatments and steroids will not make a difference unless the child also has asthma.

Fact: Cough or cold medications are largely unhelpful for bronchiolitis and can even be dangerous because they can cause a variety of side effects. They are not recommended in children under 7, and children under 2 are at greatest risk of harm.

Myth: Bronchiolitis is caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics can cause diarrhea, which can cause dehydration.

Myth: It is often the case that infants with bronchiolitis will get worse after a period of a few days of regular cold symptoms. There is no advantage to being seen sooner when they just have cold symptoms. In fact, coming to the emergency department may increase the chance of exposure to other viruses.


If you are concerned that your child is showing symptoms of a respiratory infection, call your primary care provider first. If your infant younger than 2 months has a fever greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or if your child is having difficulty breathing (flaring of the nostrils, rapid or labored breathing, sucking in of the ribs with breathing, grunting, bobbing of the head with breathing, blue lips/face), is dehydrated, or seems excessively sleepy or sluggish, call 9-1-1 or bring your child to the nearest emergency department. Please understand that RSV, flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are currently causing an increase in emergency department wait times. If a visit to the emergency department is needed, learn more about how to prepare before you go. >>