Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Chest | Pulmonology | Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (Disease)


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. It can be more serious in young babies, especially to those in certain high-risk groups.

Symptoms vary and differ with age. They usually appear 4 - 6 days after coming in contact with the virus. Older children usually have only mild, cold-like symptoms, such as cough, stuffy nose, or low-grade fever. Infants under age 1 may have more severe symptoms and often have the most trouble breathing. In general, RSV symptoms include: bluish skin color due to a lack of oxygen (cyanosis), breathing difficulty or labored breathing, cough, croupy cough (often described as a seal bark cough), fever, nasal flaring, rapid breathing (tachypnea), shortness of breath, stuffy nose, wheezing.

Causes and Risk factors

A virus causes RSV infection. Like a cold virus, RSV attacks the nose, eyes, throat, and lungs. It spreads like a cold too, when a person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. There are many kinds of RSV, so your body never becomes immune to it. Most children with RSV infections are well on their way to recovery in about a week, and almost all fully recover. Nearly all children are infected with RSV at least once by 2 years of age, and a recurrence of the infection throughout life is common. As the child grows, RSV infections become less serious than when they were infants and are usually hard to distinguish from a cold.

These infections can make asthma and other chronic breathing conditions worse. Infants with congenital heart disease may have a more severe case of RSV. Some children will require hospitalization, and a few will need intensive care.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment for respiratory syncytial virus generally involves self-care measures to make the child more comfortable (supportive care). But in severe cases, hospital care may be needed. ...