Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) Quick Facts

  • Can affect persons of any age
  • Spread by inhaling droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough or through contact with contaminated surfaces
  • Symptoms may be mild to severe; a severe infection can pose a serious health threat
  • Most common cause of pneumonia in babies
  • Most common cause of inflammation of the small airways in the lungs
  • More common in winter and early spring
  • Often occurs in annual outbreaks in communities, classrooms and/or childcare centers
  • Most babies will have at least one occurrence by the age of 2
  • Reinfection is common and may occur throughout life


  • Begin two to five days after contact with the virus. Early phase RSV symptoms are often mild and cold-like. In children younger than 3, RSV may move into lungs. Coughing, sneezing and wheezing may occur. Difficulty breathing may become severe, requiring hospitalization. Symptoms may include:
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Apnea (brief interruptions in breathing)
  • Difficulty in swallowing, which impairs eating and drinking
  • Wheezing
  • Breathing difficulty – flaring of nostrils or straining of chest or stomach; breaths taken faster than normal
  • Skin or lips appear blueish in color

Most at risk

  • Babies born prematurely
  • Babies with any heart, lung or immune system conditions are at risk for more severe impact from the virusWhen to seek emergency medical helpA pediatrician is an excellent resource to determine steps for care. If at any point you believe an emergency exists, go to the closest emergency department or call 911.
  • Child’s skin or lips have turned blue
  • Child is having trouble breathing
  • Child is unresponsive
  • Sudden change in mental status – becomes unusually sleepy, difficult to wake, is disoriented or seems confused

Prevention is basic; it begins with clean hands

  • Teach children to wash hands often.
    • Before eating or handling food
    • After using the bathroom
    • After playing with animals
    • After coughing or sneezing
  • Carry an alcohol-based hand gel containing at least 60% alcohol, if soap and water are unavailable
  • Remind children not to touch eyes, nose and mouth
  • Ensure children receive recommended vaccinations as appropriate for age
  • Prevent dehydration - make sure child is drinking enough fluids (preferably water or electrolyte solutions)
  • Make sure children get plenty of rest and eat nutritious foods