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RSV: Deadly Respiratory Virus

RSV: Deadly Respiratory Virus

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common respiratory infection that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in 1-2 weeks, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. In the U.S., infections occur primarily during fall, winter, and spring. Each year, RSV causes on average:

  • 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than 5 years old

  • 57,527 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old

  • 177,000 hospitalizations among adults older than 65 years

  • 14,000 deaths among adults older than 65 years


  • When an infected person coughs or sneezes: You can get infected if you get droplets from the cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or if you touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands

  • Direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. It can survive for many hours on hard surfaces, such as tables and crib rails. It typically lives on soft surfaces, such as tissues and hands, for shorter amounts of time.

Symptoms: usually show within 4 to 6 days after getting infected

  • Runny nose

  • Decreased appetite

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

  • Fever

  • Difficult and/or rapid breathing

  • Wheezing

In very young infants, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.


  • Bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung

  • Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs

It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age.

Diagnosis is made by laboratory testing of respiratory secretions.

Treatment: There is no specific treatment for RSV infection, nor is there a vaccine available. Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two.

  • You can manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers

  • Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines, since some medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children

  • Drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration

Hospitalization may be needed if you are having trouble breathing or staying hydrated.


  • 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 20 seconds

  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others

  • Clean contaminated surfaces

  • Avoid close contact with sick people

  • Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands

People with cold or flu-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems.

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