Frequently Asked Questions about RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms. Most people infected with RSV will experience mild illness and recover within one to two weeks. However, several people are at higher risk for severe illness, including: infants, young children, older adults, adults with chronic heart or lung disease, adults living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, pregnant people, and people with weakened immune systems. It is estimated that RSV causes approximately 58,000-80,000 hospitalizations and 100-300 deaths among children younger than five years old. Among adults over the age of 65, RSV is responsible for 60,000–160,000 hospitalizations and 6,000–10,000 deaths.

RSV season generally starts during the fall and peaks in the winter. RSV is very contagious and can spread in several ways: through exposure to respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, through direct contact with an infected person, or by touching a contaminated surface with RSV. People infected with RSV are typically contagious for three to eight days and may become contagious a day or two before showing signs of illness. Infants and immunocompromised people infected with RSV can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms for as long as four weeks.

People infected with RSV tend to show symptoms within four to six days after exposure. Symptoms of RSV may include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. RSV can sometimes lead to serious complications such as bronchiolitis, which causes lung inflammation, and pneumonia, a serious lung infection. 

There are various tests available that confirm RSV infection, all of which are administered by a healthcare professional. Contact your local healthcare provider if you have questions about RSV or RSV testing. 

Updated December 14, 2023 

There are two available single-dose vaccines—one developed by Pfizer (called Abrysvo) and the other developed by GSK (called Arexvy). Both vaccines were determined to be equally effective by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). In 2023, CDC recommended that adults age 60 and over consult with their health care providers about receipt of the RSV vaccine. 

On June 26, 2024, the CDC issued updated guidance for these vaccines in people who are 60 and older. The updated guidance is that: 

  • People 75 years of age and older who did not receive an RSV vaccine in 2023 should get one dose of the RSV vaccine in late summer or early fall. 
  • People 60-74 who did not receive an RSV vaccine in 2023 and who have certain chronic medical conditions or live in nursing homes should receive one dose of the RSV vaccine for the upcoming respiratory virus season. 
  • People who received an RSV vaccine in 2023 do not need to get a second dose this season. The RSV vaccine is not currently an annual vaccine.

Updated June 28, 2024 

Yes, on August 3, 2023, the CDC approved and recommended the use of Sanofi and AstraZeneca’s nirsevimab (Beyfortus)—a monoclonal antibody treatment for infants and toddlers to protect against severe illness caused by RSV. Caregivers should be mindful that there is a shortage of Beyfortus this RSV season.

Monoclonal antibodies are not vaccines. They are proteins that mimic the antibodies our bodies naturally produce. While there is not currently an approved pediatric vaccine for RSV, monoclonal antibody treatments–like those currently available–provide an extra layer of defense that helps fight RSV and protect infants’ lungs. The protection provided by monoclonal antibodies are more time-limited than vaccines, but they do protect babies at an age when they are most at risk of severe illness from RSV.

Beyfortus is now available by prescription in the United States. One dose of Beyfortus can protect infants for five months, which is the length of an average RSV season. The treatment has been shown to reduce the risk of both hospitalizations and healthcare visits by about 80%. A dose of Beyfortus is recommended for:

  • All infants younger than eight months in their first RSV season. 
  • Children between the ages of eight months and 19 months who are at increased risk of severe RSV disease, such as severely immunocompromised children, in their second RSV season. 

In addition to Beyfortus, palivizumab (Synagis) is currently available for infants and young children with certain health conditions that put them at higher risk for severe RSV infection. Synagis injections must be given monthly during RSV season (typically fall through spring) to provide increased protection.

Beyfortus and Synagis are not treatments for a child who already has an infection. Caregivers to young children are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider to see if either should be used as a preventive measure for their child. If either treatment is recommended, caregivers should ask the pediatrician if their clinical guidance, treatment options, or dosing practices are being impacted by the current Beyfortus shortage.

Added December 14, 2023 

Yes, the CDC recommends pregnant people get an RSV vaccine to protect their babies from severe RSV disease. Pregnant people should get a single dose of Pfizer’s RSV vaccine (Abrysvo) during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy. The vaccine triggers the development of antibodies that will be passed on to the newborn. These antibodies will provide protection for about the first six months of the baby’s life when they’re extremely vulnerable to infections like RSV.

The vaccine was approved by the FDA and CDC after their safety committees reviewed Pfizer’s vaccine clinical safety and efficacy trials results.

Expectant families should contact their obstetrician or healthcare providers for more information on the availability and accessibility of this vaccine.

Updated December 14, 2023

  

Misinformation Alerts about RSV

Updated CDC respiratory virus guidelines cause controversy online

The CDC’s updated guidance for respiratory viruses faces criticism from both vaccine skeptics and those who feel the agency isn’t doing enough to protect the public from COVID-19. The guidelines advise people to take similar precautions for COVID-19, the flu, and RSV, including staying up to date on vaccination, isolating until symptoms improve, and wearing

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