Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of many types of infections of the respiratory system. The term respiratory system refers to the lungs and breathing passages. These infections include:
These infections are common. They are usually most severe in infants, young children, and older people. However, these infections can happen at any age. In severe cases, RSV infections can cause death.
RSV is spread through infected fluids in the mouth and nose. The virus most often enters the body from touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. It can also be spread by inhaling droplets from a sneeze or cough.
RSV is spreads easily. It can survive on surfaces and objects for hours. It is easily passed from person to person. Virus shedding usually lasts for 3-8 days, but may last for up to 4 weeks.
RSV is more common in infants and young children, especially under 2 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of RSV include:
The symptoms of RSV infection vary with age and previous exposure to RSV. Very young children, elderly people, and people with chronic diseases are more likely to have severe symptoms.
In children younger than three years old, RSV can cause illnesses such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Symptoms may include:
In children older than 3 years old, and healthy adults, RSV typically causes an upper respiratory infection or cold. Symptoms commonly include:
Your doctor will ask about you or your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A variety of tests are available to diagnose RSV. Lab tests called antigen detection assays are commonly done using secretions from the nose.
In most cases, antibiotics are not needed because the infection is caused by a virus, not bacteria.
Mild infections such as colds do not need special treatment. The goal is to ease the symptoms so that you or your child feels more comfortable while the body fights the virus. For symptom relief, try the following:
People of all ages can develop severe infections from RSV. However, it is most common in very young people. Severe infections include pneumonia and bronchiolitis. These may require treatment in a hospital. This treatment is aimed at opening up breathing passages. It may include:
To help reduce your chance of RSV:
American Lung Association
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Bronchiolitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115760/Bronchiolitis. Updated May 13, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2016.
Respiratory syncytial virus. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/respiratory-syncytial-virus. Accessed September 14, 2015.
Respiratory syncytial virus. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/lung/rsv.html. Updated September 2012. Accessed September 14, 2015.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/rsv. Updated November 4, 2014. Accessed September 14, 2015.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116604/Respiratory-syncytial-virus-RSV-infection-in-adults. Updated July 26, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2016.
1/15/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116604/Respiratory-syncytial-virus-RSV-infection-in-adults: Kabir AR, Mollah AH, Anwar KS, Rahman AK, Amin R, Rahman ME. Management of bronchiolitis without antibiotics: a multicentre randomized control trial in Bangladesh. Acta Paediatr. 2009;98:1593-1599.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.