Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is RSV?
A: RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the United States. Each year, 75,000 to 125,000 children in this age group are hospitalized due to RSV infection. Almost all children are infected with the virus by their second birthday, but only a small percentage develop severe disease.
Q: What are the symptoms of RSV?
A: Symptoms of RSV infection are similar to other respiratory infections. A person with an RSV infection might cough, sneeze, and have a runny nose, fever, and decrease in appetite. Wheezing may also occur. In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of infection. Most otherwise healthy infants infected with RSV do not need to be hospitalized. In most cases, even among those who need to be hospitalized, hospitalization usually last a few days, and recovery from illness usually occurs in about 1 to 2 weeks... More about symptoms and care
Q: Who is at risk for severe illness?
A: Premature infants, children less than 2 years of age with congenital heart or chronic lung disease, and children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment are at highest risk for severe disease. Adults with compromised immune systems and those 65 and older are also at increased risk of severe disease.
Q: When is the risk for infection the greatest?
A: RSV infections generally occur in the United States from November to April. However, the timing of the season may differ among locations and from year to year.
Q: How can I provide care to someone with RSV?
A: There is no specific treatment for RSV infection. However, there are simple ways to help relieve some of the typical symptoms. Your doctor can give advice on how to make people with RSV infection more comfortable and assess whether hospitalization is needed.
Q: How is RSV spread?
A: RSV can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. Coughing and sneezing send virus-containing droplets into the air, where they can infect a person if they inhale these droplets or these droplets come in contact with their mouth, nose, or eye.
Infection can also result from direct and indirect contact with nasal or oral secretions from infected persons. Direct contact with the virus can occur, for example, by kissing the face of a child with RSV. Indirect contact can occur if the virus gets on an environmental surface, such as a doorknob, that is then touched by other people. Direct and indirect transmissions of virus usually occur when people touch an infectious secretion and then rub their eyes or nose... More about transmission
Q: How can RSV infection be prevented?
A: Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines, but none is available yet. However, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, people who have cold-like symptoms should
- Cover their coughs and sneezes
- Wash their hands frequently and correctly (with soap and water for 15–20 seconds)
- Avoid sharing their cups and eating utensils with others
- Refrain from kissing others
In addition, cleaning contaminated surfaces (such as doorknobs) may help stop the spread of RSV.
Special attention should be paid to protecting children who are at high risk for developing severe disease if infected with RSV. Such children include premature infants, children under 2 with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems. Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe disease. But, if this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above, and they should wash their hands before interacting with children at high risk. When possible, limiting the time that high-risk children spend in child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings may also help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season.
A drug called palivizumab (say "pah-lih-VIH-zu-mahb") is available to prevent severe RSV illness in certain infants and children who are at high risk. The drug can help prevent development of serious RSV disease, but it cannot help cure or treat children already suffering from serious RSV disease and it cannot prevent infection with RSV. If your child is at high risk for severe RSV disease, talk to your healthcare provider to see if palivizumab can be used as a preventive measure... More about prevention
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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
CDC Featured Podcast
Dr. Eileen Schneider talks about a common cause of respiratory illness in young children.
Listen To This Podcast (4:22)
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