Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Mother wiping daughter's nose

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. Most children get RSV infection by age 2, but you can get infected at any age and more than once in your lifetime. The symptoms are usually similar to the common cold. Most people recover in a week or two, but others at high risk may get very sick and develop pneumonia or bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs). There is no vaccine, but scientists are working to develop one. Until then, there are ways you can help prevent RSV infection.

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Key Facts

  • RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing.
  • Infants and older adults may develop severe infections from RSV, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.
  • Most kids get an RSV infection by age 2. However, you can get an RSV infection at any age and more than once in your lifetime.
  • RSV spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or shares cups and eating utensils with others.
  • You can help protect yourself and others from RSV infections by washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

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Grandmother holding baby
RSV Can Be Serious

For most people, RSV infections are mild and clear on their own. But some people develop severe infections, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. People at high risk include very young infants, premature babies, young children with chronic lung or heart disease, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Mother and daughter washing hands
Wash Your Hands Often

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. Proper hand hygiene can help protect you from getting RSV infection, and prevent the spread of infection to others when you are sick.

Boy sneezing into tissue
Cover Your Cough and Sneeze

RSV can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. To help prevent germs from spreading, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your bare hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after use, and then wash your hands.

Two boys drinking out of same glass
Avoid Sharing When Sick

You can get RSV infection if you share cups or eating utensils with others. You can also get infected if you touch surfaces, such as toys or doorknobs, that have the virus on them and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Prevention Tips

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and help young children do the same.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your bare hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after use, and then wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
Page last reviewed: September 14, 2021