Transmission and Prevention
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. However, some infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for as long as 4 weeks. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or childcare. They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.
RSV can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air, creating virus-containing droplets that can linger briefly in the air. Other people can become infected if the droplet particles contact their nose, mouth, or eye.
Infection can also result from direct and indirect contact with nasal or oral secretions from infected people. 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.
RSV can survive on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails for many hours. RSV typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.
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 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.
Parents should pay special attention to protecting children at high risk for developing severe disease if infected with RSV. Such children include premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age 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. If this is not possible, these people should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before interacting with children at high risk. They should also refrain from kissing high-risk children while they have cold-like symptoms. When possible, limiting the time that high-risk children spend in child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings may 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.
- Page last reviewed: November 4, 2014
- Page last updated: December 4, 2014
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