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