Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than one year of age.
RSV can spread when:
• An infected person coughs or sneezes
• You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
• You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
• You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as 4 weeks. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or child-care centers. They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.
RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails. It typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.
People of any age can get another RSV infection, but infections later in life are generally less severe. People at highest risk for severe disease include:
• Premature infants
• Young children with congenital (from birth) heart or chronic lung disease
• Young children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment
• Adults with compromised immune systems
• Older adults, especially those with underlying heart or lung disease
In the United States and other areas with similar climates, RSV infections generally occur during fall, winter, and spring. The timing and severity of RSV circulation in a given community can vary from year to year.
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There are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should:
• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
• Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices
Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems. If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before interacting with such children. They should also refrain from kissing high-risk children while they have cold-like symptoms.
Parents of children at high risk for developing severe RSV disease should help their child, when possible, do the following:
• Avoid close contact with sick people
• Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
• Limit the time they spend in child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings, especially during fall, winter, and spring. This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season