Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

What is respiratory syncytial virus?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older children. However, it can cause serious problems in young babies, including pneumonia and severe breathing problems. In rare cases it can lead to death. Premature babies and those with other health problems have the highest risk. 


A child with RSV may have a fever, stuffy nose, cough and trouble breathing. Additional symptoms may include: 

  • Decreased interest in surroundings

  • Listlessness

  • Irritability

  • Poor appetite

  • Apnea


Standard tests exist to diagnose RSV.


For children with mild disease, no specific treatment is necessary other than the treatment of symptoms like fever. Children with severe disease may require oxygen therapy and sometimes mechanical ventilation. Ribavirin aerosol may be used in the treatment of some patients with severe disease. Some investigators have used a combination of immune globulin intravenous (IGIV) with high titers of neutralizing RSV antibody (RSV-IGIV) and ribavirin to treat patients with compromised immune systems.


RSV easily spreads from person to person. You can get it from direct contact with someone who has it or it by touching infected objects like toys or surfaces like countertops. Washing your hands often and not sharing eating and drinking utensils are simple ways to help prevent the spread of RSV infection. There is currently no vaccine for RSV.

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