How RSV Spreads

What to know

  • RSV can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • In most regions of the United States, RSV season generally starts during the fall and peaks in the winter.
  • All people can take action to help prevent the spread of RSV.
Woman cough while walking through city street

RSV transmission

RSV can spread when:

  • An infected person coughs or sneezes
  • You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
  • You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands

People are typically infected with RSV for the first time as an infant or toddler and nearly all children are infected before their second birthday. However, repeat infections may occur throughout life, and people of any age can be infected.

Who is at risk?‎

Infants, young children, and older adults are at increased risk of severe RSV. Learn about RSV immunizations.

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days and may become contagious a day or two before they start showing signs of illness. 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 childcare 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.

In most regions of the United States and other areas with similar climates, RSV season generally starts during fall and peaks in the winter. The timing and severity of RSV season in a given community can vary from year to year.

How to prevent spread

All people can take actions to help reduce the spread of RSV and other respiratory viruses.

  • Practice good hygiene by covering your coughs and sneezes, washing or sanitizing your hands often, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
  • Take steps for cleaner air, such as bringing in fresh outside air, purifying indoor air, or gathering outdoors.
  • Stay home and away from others when you are sick.

You can also use additional tools like masks, physical distancing, and testing.

Learn more about CDC's Respiratory Virus Guidance and what you can do to protect yourself and others.