RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)


Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV, is a highly contagious respiratory illness and the most common virus that can affect the lungs and airways.

RSV is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract illness in young children worldwide.

Most children will have at least one RSV infection by the age of two. Children are more likely to catch RSV between November and April when the virus is most active.


Who is most at risk of complications from RSV?

While most people who develop RSV will experience mild, cold-like symptoms that go away on their own in a week or two, some individuals will develop a severe RSV infection that requires hospitalization.

Pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, are examples of severe infections that can result from an RSV infection.

Those at greatest risk of developing a severe illness from RSV include:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants, especially those six months and younger
  • Children younger than two years old who have a chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions
  • Older adults, especially those 65 years of age and older
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
  • Adults with weakened immune systems

RSV can also worsen serious conditions, like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and congestive heart failure.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Children with RSV may experience cold or flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose, fever, wheezing, decrease in appetite and energy, and irritability.

How can I protect my loved one from RSV?

There is currently no approved vaccine to prevent RSV, although RSV vaccines are currently being studied.

The monoclonal antibody Palivizumab may be offered as a prophylaxis against RSV disease to infants and young children with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe RSV disease, requiring hospitalization and possibly admission to an intensive care unit and mechanical ventilation.

To help protect yourself and others from RSV:

  • Stay home when sick and avoid contact with sick people;
  • Clean surfaces in your home that are touched often;
  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands often; and
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve.

How can I treat my child with RSV?

Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics will not help your child get better faster. In most cases, you can take care of your child at home as long as they are breathing comfortably, their skin does not look blue, and they are drinking and urinating as usual.

Here are some ways to treat a child with RSV:

  • Use over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain. Do not give ibuprofen to babies under six months old without first speaking to your healthcare provider. Never give aspirin to children.
  • Offer plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If your baby is having trouble drinking, try to clear nasal congestion with a bulb syringe or saline nose drops.
  • A lukewarm bath or wet face cloth may help your child feel more comfortable. Avoid cold baths because they can make your child shiver, raising their temperature.
  • Dress your child in light clothing. If your child starts to shiver, add warmer clothing and remove them when the shivering stops.
  • Consult your healthcare provider before giving your child non-prescription cold medicines or if you have concerns about your child’s symptoms.

When should I call a doctor or go to an emergency department?

You should take your child to an emergency department if they:

  • Have trouble breathing, pale skin, lips that look white or blue, asthma or wheezing;
  • Are younger than three months old and have any of the following symptoms:
    • Fever and very sleepy or difficult to wake;
    • Repeated vomiting and unable to keep any liquids down for eight hours or more;
    • Vomiting or diarrhea containing a large amount of blood;
    • Signs of dehydration with dry mouth or no urination for eight hours or more.



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