What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus or RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing tracts. It's so common that most children have been infected with the virus by the age of 2.

In adults and older, healthy children, RSV symptoms are mild and typically very similar to the common cold. Self-care measures are usually all that's needed to relieve any discomfort. RSV can cause severe infection in some people, including infants, especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system.


Signs and symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus infection most commonly appear about four to six days after exposure to the virus.

In adults and older children, RSV usually causes mild cold-like signs and symptoms. These may include:

• Dry cough

• Runny nose and Sneezing

• Low-grade fever

• Sore throat

• Headache

In severe cases RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis — inflammation of the small airway passages entering the lungs.

Signs and symptoms may include:

• Fever

• Severe cough

• Wheezing — a high-pitched noise that's usually heard on breathing out.

• Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing — the person may prefer to sit up rather than lie down

• Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen Infants are most severely affected by RSV.

Signs and symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants include:

• Short, shallow and rapid breathing

• Struggling to breathe — chest muscles pull inward with each breath

• Cough

• Poor feeding

• Unusual tiredness

• Irritability

Most children and adults recover in one to two weeks. Severe or life-threatening infection requiring a hospital stay may occur in premature infants or in anyone who has chronic heart or lung problems.

RSV and COVID-19

Because RSV and COVID-19 are both types of respiratory viruses, some symptoms of RSV and COVID-19 can be similar. In children, COVID-19 often results in mild symptoms such as fever, runny nose and cough.

For adults with COVID-19, symptoms may be more severe and may include trouble breathing. Having RSV may lower immunity and increase the risk of getting COVID-19. And these infections may occur together, which can worsen the severity of COVID-19 illness. If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness, your doctor may recommend testing for COVID-19.

How the RSV spread?

You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, mouth or nose.

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 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.

Children are often exposed to the virus outside the home, such as in school or childcare centers.

They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.

How to prevent RSV?

The RSV outbreak is happening as holiday season begins, with more people traveling, likely with fewer precautions than in the previous two years. Taking the necessary steps to prevent RSV are imperative of all travelers.

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices

Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, children with weakened immune systems, or children with neuromuscular disorders.

Parents of children at high risk for developing severe RSV disease should help their child, when possible, do the following:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
  • Limit the time they spend in childcare centers during periods of high RSV activity.

This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season

Is there a vaccine for the RSV disease?

There is no RSV vaccine yet, although there are many in development. There is, however, a medication called palivizumab that is available to high-risk infants. It is an injection that can be given to infants born with certain lung or heart conditions who are at high risk for severe RSV disease.

Credit: CDC.gov & mayoclinic.org

 Healthy Travel
 Healthy Travel
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