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FAQs about respiratory syncytial virus.

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that causes infections in the lungs. In most people, RSV infection causes mild cold-like symptoms and clears fairly quickly on its own. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most children will have an RSV infection by their second birthday. However, in infants, especially those under 6 months old, the infection can be quite serious and may require hospitalization.

What are the symptoms of RSV infection?

According to the CDC, symptoms of RSV infection appear 4 to 6 days after exposure and include:

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

Most people, including healthy children, recover in a week or two. In infants under 6 months old, however, RSV infection can lead to bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the airways in the lungs, or pneumonia.

What medical care is needed?

In healthy children, RSV infections typically resolve on their own in a week or two. Talk to your doctor before giving a child medication to ease symptoms.

Infants who develop bronchiolitis or pneumonia are likely to require hospitalization to support their breathing and treat dehydration.

How can transmission of RSV be prevented?

  • According to the CDC, there are some easy ways you can help prevent transmission of RSV and other viruses. This is especially important if you have a loved one who is at risk for severe infection.
  • Wash your hands often: Use soap and water and wash for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your hands off your face: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people: Avoid kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who have cold-like symptoms.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces: Viruses can live on surfaces and objects that people frequently touch, such as toys and doorknobs.
  • Stay home when you are sick: If possible, stay away from work, school, and public areas.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent RSV infection.

Who is at risk for severe infection?

While most people recover from RSV infections on their own, some children are at risk for developing severe infections that require hospitalization. According to the CDC, about 57,000 children are hospitalized for severe RSV infection in the US every year.1 Those most at risk are:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants younger than 6 months
  • Children younger than 2 years with chronic lung disease
  • Children younger than 2 years with chronic heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children with neuromuscular disorders that cause difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus

If your child is at high risk for severe RSV infection, your doctor may prescribe a medication called Synagis® (palivizumab) to help prevent infection throughout the RSV season. RSV season typically starts in the fall and ends in the spring, but varies in different parts of the country. Read this article to learn more about Synagis.

Adults over the age of 65, with chronic lung or heart disease, or with weakened immune systems are also at risk for severe infection and pneumonia.

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1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website, Accessed December 5, 2018.