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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

RSV Information

Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus. RSV season occurs each year in most regions of the U.S. during fall, winter, and spring. Most otherwise healthy people usually recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States.

RSV Symptoms

People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected. Symptoms of RSV infection usually include:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

New RSV vaccines are now available* only for high-risk groups including:

  • Adults over 60
  • Pregnant women during weeks 32 through 36 of their pregnancy
  • Certain higher-risk children between 8 and 19 months

*Currently, there is often a cost associated with the RSV vaccine so please contact your insurance provider for coverage information.

Most children contract RSV by the time they are 2 years old. For most babies and young children, an RSV infection causes nothing more than a cold, but can also cause serious illness. 1-2% of babies are hospitalized with RSV in their first 6 months of life however on a very small percentage of that develop life-threatening complications.

Older adults over 60 are also at higher risk from RSV. Seniors are more are more likely to be hospitalized or die if they catch RSV. This is because older people tend to have more health conditions and weaker immune systems.

RSV is more contagious than the flu. RSV can be spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It also can live for many hours on surfaces (such as countertops, doorknobs, or toys) and on hands, so it can be easily spread when a person touches something contaminated with RSV.

RSV can cause illness in anyone. People usually catch RSV multiple times during their lifetime. Most adults and older children infected with RSV have mild symptoms. According to CDC data, each year approximately 58,000 children in that age range are hospitalized for RSV. The next most vulnerable group are adults over 60, in whom the infection causes 14,000 deaths a year.


Who is most at risk for RSV?

  • Adults older then 60
  • Infants
  • People who have chronic health conditions like heart or lung issues

However, RSV can cause illness in anyone. People usually catch RSV multiple times during their lifetime. Most adults and older children infected with RSV have mild symptoms.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

People with RSV usually show symptoms in 4-6 days after being infected and can be similar to a cold. Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing/sneezing
  • Fever
  • Decrease in appetite

In most children, RSV can cause ear infection as well symptoms of pneumonia including difficulty in breathing.


RSV may not be severe when it first starts. However, it can beome more severe a few days into the illness. Early symptoms of RSV may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Cough, which may progress to wheezing
  • In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties
  • Fever may not always occur with RSV infections

How is RSV spread?

RSV is spread from person to person through the respiratory secretions of an infected person. This most frequently occurs by touching a surface or object that is contaminated with infected secretions and then touching your mouth or nose before washing your hands. It can also be spread from respiratory secretions through close contact with the infected person.

Can RSV be prevented?

There is a new vaccine that can help prevent RSV in adults over 60 and pregnant women during weeks 32 through 36 of their pregnancy. This new vaccine is the first to prevent RSV in infants less than 8 months old. An additional vaccination option exists for certain higher-risk children between 8 and 19 months. Both of these immunizations are safe and effective. Ask your medical provider for more information about these new vaccine options.

Should a person with RSV be excluded from work or school?

No, a person with RSV does not need to be excluded from work or school as long as they feel well enough to participate in their usual activities.

Can RSV be cured?

While there is no “cure” for RSV, recommended immunizations along with proper hygiene can help prevent you from getting the virus.

How can I protect myself and my loved ones from RSV?

Lower the chances of catching RSV by practicing good health habits. The most effective way to prevent RSV and other respiratory viral infections is:

  • Washing your hands will help protect you from germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your hands off your face. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Germs spread this way.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who have RSV or any cold-like symptoms.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch, such as doorknobs. When people infected with RSV touch, cough or sneeze, droplets containing germs can land on surfaces leaving behind germs.
  • Stay home when you are sick. This will help prevent the spread of viruses to others.

In child-care settings the following can be done to help prevent the spread of RSV:

  • Frequent hand-washing
  • Appropriate disposal of tissues used to clean nasal secretions
  • Cleaning of toys between use by each child
  • Ill children may be grouped together and kept separate from well or recovered children.

For more information on RSV, you can visit: