Learn about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Some Quick Facts about Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV:
- It is a contagious virus that may infect your lungs and breathing passages.
- Most people have had an RSV infection by age 2.
- You can get the disease more than once.
- Most people recover from the disease in a week or two, but RSV can be severe, especially in children 6 months of age and younger, in older adults and in people with weakened immune systems.
- In temperate climates like the United States, the number of people who get infected with RSV typically goes up in the fall, peaks in the winter and goes down in early spring. But the exact timing of RSV season varies by location.
RSV symptoms are like those of many other respiratory illnesses. Infants and young children may experience a fever, reduced appetite, runny nose, cough, and wheezing. Older children and adults may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, cough, and a feeling of general sickness. RSV also can lead to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, in young children and older adults.
How It Spreads
RSV spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending respiratory droplets into the air. These droplets contain RSV and can end up in other people's mouths or noses, where they can cause infection. The droplets can also land on objects that people touch, such as toys or countertops. People can be exposed to and possibly infected with RSV by touching these objects and then touching their eyes, mouths or noses. Children often pass the virus to one another at their school or daycare center.
To help prevent the spread of RSV, people who have cold-like symptoms should
- Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing,
- Wash their hands often with soap and water for 15–20 seconds,
- Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others, and
- Refrain from kissing others.
There is not yet a vaccine to protect against RSV. However, for children at high risk for serious disease, monthly shots of a drug called palivizumab can help prevent serious illness during RSV season. Ask your healthcare provider if your child would be a good candidate for the drug.
If you think that you or your child might have an RSV infection that requires medical care, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. The healthcare provider will evaluate the severity of the illness and decide how best to treat it.
- CDC Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) website
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Surveillance (Seasonal and geographic patterns of RSV)
- RSV: A Respiratory Virus in Young and Old [PODCAST - 4:53 minutes]
Get email updates
To receive email updates about this page, enter your email address:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC-INFO