What is RSV?
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people 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.
People are typically infected with RSV for the first time as an infant or toddler and nearly all children are infected before their second birthday. However, repeat infections may occur throughout life, and people of any age can be infected.
RSV Fact Sheet (Spanish) (Khmer) (Tagalog)
What are signs and symptoms of RSV?
People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected. Symptoms of RSV infection usually include:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.
Is there treatment for RSV infection?
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 develop vaccines and antivirals (medicines that fight viruses).
Palivizumab, an antiviral monoclonal antibody, may be prescribed to premature infants and young children with certain heart or lung conditions during the RSV season to help prevent severe illness.
You can take steps to relieve symptoms, such as:
- Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not good for children.
- Consider using over-the-counter fever reducing medication and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to children.
- Drink enough fluids. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
Who is at high risk for severe RSV infection?
Healthy adults and infants infected with RSV do not usually need to be hospitalized. But some people with RSV infection, especially older adults and infants younger than 6 months of age, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. In the most severe cases, a person may require additional oxygen, or IV fluids (if they can’t eat or drink enough), or intubation (have a breathing tube inserted through the mouth and down to the airway) with mechanical ventilation (a machine to help a person breathe). In most of these cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days.
Examples of severe infections include bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia. RSV can also make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks as a result of RSV infection, and people with congestive heart failure may experience more severe symptoms triggered by 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 with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
- You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days and may become contagious a day or two before they start showing signs of illness. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to 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 transmit the virus to other members of the family.
RSV 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.
What can I do to prevent RSV?
There are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should:
- 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
Ideally, people with cold-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, children with weakened immune systems, or children with neuromuscular disorders. If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before interacting with such children. They should also refrain from kissing high-risk children while they have cold-like symptoms.
Parents of children at high risk for developing severe RSV disease should help their child, when possible, do the following:
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
- Limit the time they spend in childcare centers or other potentially contagious settings during periods of high RSV activity. This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season
Information for Health Care Providers
- Palivizumab is a monoclonal antibody recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to be administered to high-risk infants and young children likely to benefit from immunoprophylaxis based on gestational age and certain underlying conditions. It is given in monthly intramuscular infections during the RSV season.
- Updated Guidance: Use of Palivizumab Prophylaxis to Prevent Hospitalization From Severe Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection During the 2022-2023 RSV Season (aap.org)
- Testing for RSV
- Several types of laboratory tests are available for confirming RSV infections. These tests may be performed on upper and lower respiratory specimens
- The most used types of RSV clinical laboratory tests are:
- Real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR)
- Antigen testing
- Reporting RSV to the Health Department
- In Long Beach, healthcare providers must report RSV associated deaths among individuals less than 5 years of age
- To report a death, complete the RespiratoryVirusDeathReportFormfoundhere:disease-reported-updated-march-2022locked (longbeach.gov) and fax to 562-570-4374 or secure email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- CDPH RSV Website
- Learn more about other respiratory illnesses currently circulating: Flu | COVID-19