Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infects the lungs and breathing passages. In healthy people, symptoms of RSV infection are usually mild and resolve within a week. However, RSV can cause serious illness or death in vulnerable individuals, including premature and very young infants, children with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease, and people who are over age 65.

In the U.S., RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (SEE LINK TO ARTICLE) (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) in children younger than one year old and causes approximately 58,000 hospitalizations among children under five annually.

Key Facts

  • RSV is a widespread respiratory virus causing symptoms like a cold in both children and adults.
  • In severe cases, RSV can lead to hospitalization in infants and is unpredictable.
  • Seniors 65+ and individuals with chronic health problems or compromised immunity are highly susceptible to severe RSV.
  • RSV does not offer long-term immunity, so people can contract the virus repeatedly throughout their lives.

RSV Symptoms

Initial signs of RSV are like mild cold symptoms, including congestion, runny nose, fever, cough and sore throat. Young infants may be irritable, fatigued and have breathing difficulties. Usually, symptoms resolve on their own within a few days.

A cough with a barking or wheezing sound may indicate a serious illness, which means the virus has reached the lower airways and caused inflammation in small lung airways. This can lead to pneumonia or bronchiolitis.


Infants with severe RSV display short, shallow, and rapid breathing with chest wall retractions, nasal flaring, and fast breathing. They may also experience blue coloring in mouth, lips, and fingernails due to oxygen deficiency.

How RSV Is Diagnosed?


Because mild RSV symptoms are similar to the common cold, testing usually isn’t required to diagnose the infection. In this case, they may want to run lab tests to confirm the diagnosis. The most common is a mouth swab or a blood test to check white blood cell counts and look for viruses.


n severe RSV requiring hospitalization, additional testing may be required, including imaging tests like chest X-ray or CT scan to assess lung complications. Blood and urine cultures may be necessary when infants are very sick, as RSV-related bronchiolitis can occur with a urinary tract infection in newborns.


RSV Treatment

RSV infections with mild symptoms can resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks without treatment. Symptoms can be managed with OTC fever/pain relievers. Check with your doctor if you are not sure if an over-the-counter product is safe to give to your child. Your doctor may recommend nasal saline drops or suctioning for a congested nose. Supportive care such as staying hydrated and comfortable is also helpful.


In severe cases, most commonly for infants younger than 6 months of age and older adults, hospitalization may be needed. The hospital will use intravenous (IV) fluids to aid in hydration, and a breathing machine or humidified oxygen to help your body receive the oxygen it needs. In most cases, hospitalization will only last a few days.
At home you can use oxygen concentrator as an oxygen therapy to receive more oxygen.


RSV Prevention

RSV is extremely contagious and it is estimated that each year in Georgia, 20,000 children under the age of five visit the outpatient clinics as a result of RSV infection. There are some steps you should take to prevent its spread. The most effective means of protection are some of the simplest, such as:


  • Avoid close contact with infected individuals.
  • Avoid sharing items contaminated with the virus (e.g. cups, bottles, toys) as the virus can survive on surfaces for several hours.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with infected individuals.

Researchers are working to develop a vaccine, but currently, there is nothing available for public use.