Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a respiratory virus that typically causes cold-like symptoms. Most people who get RSV have mild symptoms and recover in a week or two. However, it can become serious for children and older adults.  

Who is at high risk for severe RSV?

Those at greatest risk for severe RSV in children and young infants: 

Premature infants 

  • Very young infants (<6 months of age) 
  • Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease 
  • Children with weakened immune systems 
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders (including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions)  

Increased risk

Infants, young children, older adults and adults with chronic medical conditions are at the highest risk for severe RSV.

Those at a high risk for severe RSV may need to be hospitalized due to complications. RSV can also lead to death.

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 U.S.  

Those at greatest risk for severe RSV in older adults and adults who have chronic lung and heart conditions: 

  • Adults aged 65 and older  
  • Adults who have chronic medical conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure can develop serious health problems due to RSV.  

If you think you have RSV:

Symptoms of RSV usually show up within 4-6 days after being infected and typically resolve within a week or two. Common symptoms include: 

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

RSV has no specific treatment but antivirals and a vaccine are being developed by researchers. Most RSV infections go away on their own in about a week or two. 

Call your healthcare provider if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or is experiencing worsening symptoms.  Some people with RSV, especially older adults and infants younger than 6 months of age, may need to be hospitalized if they have severe symptoms. 

How to help relieve symptoms: 

  • Use over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage fever and pain. Do not give aspirin to children.  
  • Stay hydrated with fluids to prevent dehydration.  
  • Contact your healthcare provider before giving children nonprescription cold medicines. Some ingredients in cold medicines can be harmful to children.  

Can I spread RSV? 

People who have RSV are contagious for 3-8 days. However, some people or infants who are immunocompromised may continue to spread the virus for up to 4 weeks even after symptoms cease.  

Ways to prevent the spread of RSV in children: 

  • Keep children who are at high risk away from adults who are exhibiting cold-like symptoms 
  • Avoid close contact with sick people 
  • Wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds 
  • Avoid touching a child’s face with unwashed hands 
  • Limit the time they spend in child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings, especially during fall, winter, and spring. This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season. 

If you have cold-like symptoms, you should: 

  • Not have close contact with children who are at a high-risk for RSV  
  • Not use your hands to cover coughs and sneezes; use a tissue or upper shirt sleeve 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds 
  • Avoid close contact with others which includes shaking hands and sharing utensils 
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices