Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) 

man coughing

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that often causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people get better in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, mostly for infants and older adults. RSV is a 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.

Who can get RSV?
Anyone who has been in close personal contact with someone who has RSV.

How does RSV spread?
RSV can spread when:

  • An infected person coughs or sneezes
  • You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose or mouth
  • You have direct contact (kissing or touching) someone who has RSV  
  • You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands

When are people with RSV contagious?
People who have RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days and may become contagious a day or two before showing signs of illness. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can still spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as 4 weeks. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or childcare centers. They can then give the virus to others.

Is RSV deadly?
RSV can cause serious illness or death in vulnerable people, such as premature and very young infants, children with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease, and people who are over age 65. However, in healthy people, symptoms of RSV infection are usually mild and resolve within a week.

What are the symptoms of RSV?
People who have RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected. Symptoms of RSV infection usually include:
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • These symptoms do not usually appear all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity and breathing problems.

Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.

When should I get tested for RSV?
If you think you or your child have RSV or have had close personal contact with someone who is sick, you should call your doctor  to help you decide if you need to be tested for RSV. To limit the spreading of the virus, you may be taken to an exam room quickly and instructed not to sit in the waiting area. 

What should I do if I have symptoms?

  • Stay isolated if you have a fever, sore throat, nasal congestion or cough. Only go out to see a doctor for an emergency. Avoid public transportation.
  • If you must leave isolation, wear a well-fitting mask.

How can RSV be prevented?

There are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of RSV. If you have cold-like symptoms and think you may have been exposed to RSV: 

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices

What treatments are available for RSV?

Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two. There is no specific treatment for RSV infection, though researchers are working to create  vaccines and medicines that fight viruses.

Is there a vaccine to prevent RSV?
Arexvy (GSK) and Abrysvo (Pfizer) are two RSV vaccines approved in the United States for adults 60 years and older. These vaccines work by creating an immune response that protects people if they are exposed to RSV. Vaccines help to prevent serious illness and can prevent lung infections such as pneumonia. Adults may receive one dose of the vaccine after discussing with their doctors.

Adults at higher risk e.g., those who have weak immune system, chronic medical conditions and those who live in nursing home or medical facilities may benefit from RSV vaccination. 
Common side effects of the RSV vaccines include pain at the site injection site, redness, fatigue, muscle pain and headache. 

There is no approved vaccine for children at this time. There are  medicines called Beyfortus (Nirsevimb) and Synagis (Palivizumab) that can help protect some babies at high risk for severe RSV disease.

When Should I Seek Medical Care for My Child?

  • Not peeing every 6 hours (for infants) or every 8 hours (for toddlers)
  • Not making tears or saliva
  • Breathing fast or working hard to breathe while at rest
  • Not rousing to touch or voice, confused
  • Fever of 100.4 F or higher for more than 5 days; or above 104 for a child of any age
  • Blue/grey color to lips, chest, inside of mouth
  • Frequent throwing up, not able to drink at all
  • Fever (with a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or higher) in children less than 12 weeks of age. 

Home Care Tips for Sick Children
  • Bulb Suctioning: A bulb syringe can be used 6 times a day to remove mucus from your baby's mouth or nose. A stuffy nose can make it hard for your baby to breathe. This can make your baby fussy, especially when he/she tries to eat or sleep. Suctioning makes it easier for your baby to breathe and eat.
  • Offer Fluids: Keep your child hydrated by giving fluids such as Pedialyte, low-sugar versions of Gatorade or Powerade, or even popsicles for those who don’t want to drink. Offer infants breast milk or formula. If your child is throwing up, offer smaller sips of fluids by syringe or cup. 
  • Treat pain and fever: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) can be used. If using only one medication is not making your child more comfortable then you can try giving acetaminophen and ibuprofen together. When giving acetaminophen and ibuprofen together make sure you do not give acetaminophen more often than once every four hours, and ibuprofen more often than once every six hours. Be sure to follow instructions on the label. Never give aspirin to children. 
  • Rest and Monitoring: Stay home and allow your child to rest. Watch for signs that they are getting worse and may need medical attention (see below).

Home Care Tips for Adults 

  • Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 
  • Drink enough fluids. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen. 

Additional Information
RSV signs and symptoms -
CDC RSV Site: 
CDC RSV Vaccines FAQ: