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Respiratory Syncytial Virus

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Respiratory Syncytial Virus



Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of many lung and airway infections, such as:


RSV is spread easily through fluids of the mouth and nose. The virus can live on surfaces and objects for hours. People touch the surface with the virus then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. It can also be spread by inhaling droplets from a sneeze or cough.

Risk Factors

RSV can infect people of all ages. It is more common in infants and young children. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Exposure to a person infected with the virus or a surface with the virus
  • Premature birth
  • Problems with the heart, lungs, or immune system
  • Current or recent use of chemotherapy
  • Previous organ or bone marrow transplant
  • Problems associated with muscle weakness


The symptoms can vary with age, health, and whether a person has had RSV before.

In children younger than 3 years old, problems may be:

  • Fever
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast breathing
  • Bluish color of the lips or fingernails
  • Being very drowsy or irritable
  • Lack of hunger
  • Discharge from the eyes

In children older than 3 years old and healthy adults, problems may be:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Mild cough
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the eyes


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will suspect a virus based on the symptoms.

There are tests to diagnose RSV. They are not usually needed. It will not affect treatment.


Antibiotics are not helpful because RSV is caused by a virus. Most infections will pass on their own. Treatment options are:

  • Supportive care, such as fluids, humidified air, and saline nasal drops
  • Medicine to ease pain or help with breathing
  • Oxygen therapy or breathing support


The risk of RSV can be lowered by practicing healthy habits, such as washing hands often and not sharing personal items.

An RSV vaccine may be given to:

  • Pregnant women to lower the risk of RSV in their babies
  • Babies and children who are at risk
  • Adults over the age of 60




  • Bronchiolitis in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bronchiolitis-in-children.
  • CDC recommends RSV vaccine for older adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2023/s0629-rsv.html.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/respiratory-syncytial-virus.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/lung/rsv.html.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/rsv.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/respiratory-syncytial-virus-rsv-infection-in-adults.
  • 9/21/2023 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/adult-preventative-health: FDA Approves First Vaccine for Pregnant Individuals to Prevent RSV in Infants. FDA website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-vaccine-pregnant-individuals-prevent-rsv-infants.


  • Nicole S. Meregian, PA
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.