RSV can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can get infected if you get droplets from the cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or if you touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands. Additionally, it can spread through direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV.
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as 4 weeks. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or child-care centers. They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.
RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails. It typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.
People of any age can get another RSV infection, but infections later in life are generally less severe. People at highest risk for severe disease include
- premature infants
- young children with congenital (from birth) heart or chronic lung disease
- young children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment
- adults with compromised immune systems
- older adults, especially those with underlying heart or lung disease
In the United States and other areas with similar climates, RSV infections generally occur during fall, winter, and spring. The timing and severity of RSV circulation in a given community can vary from year to year.