For Healthcare Providers
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is recognized as one of the most common causes of childhood illness and is the most common cause of hospitalization in infants. It causes annual outbreaks of respiratory illnesses in all age groups. In most regions of the United States, RSV season starts in the fall and peaks in the winter, but the timing and severity of RSV season in a given community can vary from year to year.
Healthcare providers should consider RSV in the differential diagnosis of patients with respiratory illness, particularly during the RSV season. For more information about recommended infection prevention and control practices in healthcare settings, see CDC’s 2007 Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings.
RSV vaccines are available to protect older adults from severe RSV. RSV vaccines (administered during pregnancy) and monoclonal antibody products (administered to the infant) are available to protect infants and young children from severe RSV. A healthcare provider’s recommendation is one of the most important factors influencing a patient’s choice to accept a new prevention product or vaccine.
New RSV vaccines are available for adults 60 and older. CDC recommends that adults 60 and older may receive an using shared clinical decision-making. The decision to vaccinate an individual patient should be based on a discussion between the healthcare provider and the patient. It may be informed by the patient’s risk of severe RSV disease and their characteristics, values, and preferences; the healthcare provider’s clinical discretion; and the characteristics of the vaccine.
Healthcare providers should be aware of underlying conditions that may increase the risk of severe RSV illness, and who might be most likely to benefit from these new vaccines.
RSV vaccine is recommended as a single dose. Studies are ongoing to determine whether (and if so, when) revaccination may be needed over time.
There are two safe and effective immunizations to prevent RSV lower respiratory tract infection in infants. Either a maternal vaccination or a monoclonal antibody is recommended, but administration of both is not needed for most infants.
A new RSV vaccine is recommended for pregnant people who are 32–36 weeks pregnant with seasonal administration during September–January in most of the continental United States. In jurisdictions with seasonality that differs from most of the continental United States (e.g., Alaska, jurisdictions with tropical climates), providers should follow state, local, or territorial guidance on timing of administration.
This vaccine provides protection against severe RSV illness to the recipient’s baby for up to 6 months of age. However, the infant’s protection will wane over time.
Healthcare providers of pregnant people should provide information on both maternal vaccines and infant monoclonal antibody products and consider patient preferences when determining whether to vaccinate the pregnant patient or to not vaccinate and rely on administration of nirsevimab to the infant after birth.
- Infants under 8 months old born during – or entering – their first RSV season (typically fall through spring) if their mother did not receive an RSV vaccine, it is unknown if their mother received an RSV vaccine, or the mother received a vaccine but the infant was born <14 days after vaccination
- Nirsevimab can be considered in rare circumstances even though the mother received an RSV vaccine when, per the clinical judgment of the healthcare provider, the potential incremental benefit of administration is warranted:
- Pregnant people who may not mount an adequate immune response to vaccination (e.g., people with immunocompromising conditions) or have conditions associated with reduced transplacental antibody transfer (e.g., people living with HIV infection)
- Infants who have had cardiopulmonary bypass leading to loss of RSV antibodies
- Infants with substantially increased risk for severe RSV disease (e.g., hemodynamically significant congenital heart disease, intensive care admission, and requiring oxygen at discharge)
- Some children between the ages of 8 and 19 months who are at increased risk of severe RSV disease before their second RSV season. These include:
- Children who have chronic lung disease of prematurity who required medical support (chronic corticosteroid therapy, diuretic therapy, or supplemental oxygen) any time during the 6-month period before the start of the second RSV season
- Children with severe immunocompromise
- Children with cystic fibrosis who have severe disease
- American Indian and Alaska Native children
Nirsevimab is administered by intramuscular injection. It is long-acting, providing protection for at least 5 months (the average length of one season), and only one dose is recommended for an RSV season. However, immune protection will wane over time. Another monoclonal antibody, Palivizumab (Synagis), is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for administration to infants and young children who are at increased risk of severe RSV disease based on gestational age and certain underlying medical conditions. It is given in monthly intramuscular injections during RSV season. AAP has provided considerations for the 2023–2024 RSV season with regard to palivizumab versus nirsevimab administration for high-risk infants during the same RSV season.
In Infants and Young Children
RSV infection can cause a variety of respiratory illnesses and symptoms in infants and young children. It most commonly causes a cold-like illness but can also cause lower respiratory infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Two to three percent of infants with RSV infection may need to be hospitalized. Severe disease most commonly occurs in very young infants. Additionally, children with any of the following underlying conditions are considered at increased risk:
- Premature infants
- Infants, especially those 6 months and younger
- Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease
- Children with suppressed or weakened immune systems
- Children who have neuromuscular disorders or a congenital anomaly, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions
- Children with severe cystic fibrosis
Infants and young children with RSV infection may have rhinorrhea and a decrease in appetite before any other symptoms appear. Cough usually develops 1 to 3 days later. Soon after the cough develops, sneezing, fever, and wheezing may occur. Symptoms in very young infants can include irritability, decreased activity, and/or apnea.
Most otherwise healthy infants and young children who are infected with RSV do not need hospitalization. Those who are hospitalized may require oxygen, rehydration, and/or mechanical ventilation. Most improve with supportive care and are discharged in a few days.
In Older Adults and Adults with Chronic Medical Conditions
Adults who get infected with RSV usually have mild or no symptoms. Symptoms are usually consistent with an upper respiratory tract infection, which can include rhinorrhea, pharyngitis, cough, headache, fatigue, and fever. Disease usually lasts less than 5 days.
Some adults, however, may have more severe symptoms consistent with a lower respiratory tract infection, such as pneumonia. Epidemiologic evidence indicates that people 60 and older who are at highest risk of severe RSV disease include those with any of the following chronic conditions:
- Lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and asthma)
- Chronic cardiovascular diseases (such as congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Neurologic conditions
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Hematologic disorders
- Immune compromise
- Other underlying conditions that a healthcare provider determines might increase the risk for severe respiratory disease
Other underlying factors that the provider determines might increase the risk of severe RSV-associated respiratory illness may include the following:
- Advanced age
- Residence in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
- Other underlying factors that a healthcare provider determines might increase the risk for severe respiratory disease
RSV can sometimes also lead to exacerbation of serious conditions such as:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Congestive heart failure
Clinical symptoms of RSV are nonspecific and can overlap with other viral respiratory infections, as well as some bacterial infections. Several types of laboratory tests are available for confirming RSV infection. These tests may be performed on upper and lower respiratory specimens.
The most commonly used types of RSV clinical laboratory tests are
- Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR), which is more sensitive than culture and antigen testing
- Antigen testing, which is sensitive in children but less sensitive in adults
Less commonly used tests include:
- Viral culture
- Serology, which is usually only used for research and surveillance studies
Some tests can differentiate between RSV subtypes (A and B), but the clinical significance of these subtypes is unclear. Consult your laboratorian for information on what type of respiratory specimen is most appropriate to use.
RSV Testing For Infants and Young Children
Both rRT-PCR and antigen detection tests are effective methods for diagnosing RSV infection in infants and young children. The sensitivity of RSV antigen detection tests generally ranges from 80% to 90% in this age group. Healthcare providers should consult experienced laboratorians for more information on interpretation of results.
RSV Testing For Older Children, Adolescents, and Adults
Healthcare providers should use highly sensitive rRT-PCR assays when testing older children and adults for RSV. rRT-PCR assays are now commercially available for RSV. The sensitivity of these assays often exceeds the sensitivity of virus isolation and antigen detection methods. Antigen tests are not sensitive for older children and adults because they may have lower viral loads in their respiratory specimens. Healthcare providers should consult experienced laboratorians for more information on interpretation of results.
- Healthcare Providers: RSV Vaccination for Adults 60 Years of Age and Over
- Frequently Asked Questions About RSV Vaccine for Adults
- RSV Vaccination for Adults 60 Years and Older (job aid)
- RSV Vaccine Information Statement
- Healthcare Providers: RSV Immunization for Children 19 Months and Younger
- Frequently Asked Questions About RSV Vaccine for Children 19 Months and Younger
- Red Book® Online