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Learn about Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Baby girlRespiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious viral disease that can lead to serious health problems—especially for young children and older adults. There is no vaccine to prevent RSV. However, there are simple ways you can protect your child or yourself from getting sick during RSV season.


Child blowing her nose

Some quick facts about respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV:

  • It is a contagious viral disease that infects a person's lungs and breathing passages.
  • RSV mostly strikes younger children and older adults.
  • Almost everyone gets RSV by age 2.
  • People can get the disease more than once.
  • Most people recover from the disease in a week or two, but RSV can be severe, most commonly for children 6 months of age and younger.
  • The number of RSV cases typically rise in the fall, winter, and early spring, but the exact timing of RSV season varies by location.


RSV symptoms are like those of many other respiratory illnesses. Infants and young children may experience a fever, reduced appetite, runny nose, cough, and wheezing. Older children and adults may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, cough, and a feeling of general sickness. RSV also can lead to more serious illnesses in both children and adults, including pneumonia and bronchiolitis.


RSV spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending respiratory droplets into the air. These droplets contain RSV and can end up in other people's mouths or noses, causing an infection. The droplets can also land on objects that people touch, such as toys or countertops. People can get infected by touching these objects and then touching their mouths or noses. Children often pass the virus to one another at their school or daycare center.

Elderly woman holding a baby


To help prevent the spread of RSV, people who have cold-like symptoms should:

  • Cover their mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing,
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for 15–20 seconds,
  • Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others, and
  • Refrain from kissing others.

There is not yet a vaccine to protect against RSV. However, for high-risk children, such as certain premature babies, monthly shots with a drug called palivizumab can help prevent serious illness during RSV season. Ask your healthcare provider if your child would be a good candidate for the drug.


If you think that you or your child might have an RSV infection that requires medical care, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. Such visits are common for young children. The healthcare provider will evaluate the severity of the illness and decide how best to treat it. RSV symptoms in most infants, children, and adults clear up on their own in a week or two.

More Information The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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