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. RSV is often introduced into the home by school-aged children who are infected with RSV and have a mild upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold. RSV can be rapidly transmitted to other members of the family, often infecting about 50% of other household members.
RSV can be spread when droplets containing the virus are sneezed or coughed into the air by an infected person. Such droplets can linger briefly in the air, and if someone inhales the particles or the particles contact their nose, mouth, or eye, they can become infected.
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. 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.
Frequent handwashing and wiping of hard surfaces with soap and water or disinfectant may help stop infection and spread of RSV. Also, persons with RSV illness should not share cups or eating utensils with others.
Ideally, persons with cold-like symptoms should not interact with high-risk children. If this is not possible, these persons should cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and then wash their hands before providing any care. 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. Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines, but none is available yet.
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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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