Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (also commonly referred to as RSV) is a viral infection that is extremely common. It affects the lungs as well as the rest of the respiratory tract. It can affect people of any age and any level of health. In adults as well as healthy older children, respiratory syncytial virus is usually only a mild illness. However, for newborns, infants, young children, and people who may be sick or have a compromised immune system, it can cause more severe symptoms. Elderly people, especially if they have a heart condition or a lung condition may also get quite ill if exposed to respiratory syncytial virus.

This viral infection is extremely contagious and the virus can enter the body through the nose, eyes, or the mouth. It is most commonly spread through contact with infected fluids, namely from someone coughing or sneezing. This can be direct transmission, or through shaking hands with an ill person, kissing or hugging them, or coming into contact with an object that has been coughed or sneezed on.

What are the Symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

When a healthy person contracts the respiratory syncytial virus, the symptoms they experience are often mild and resemble the symptoms of a common cold. These can include a cough, sneezing, a mild to moderate fever, a runny nose, and a reduction in appetite. Mild headaches can also occur as can a sore throat.

Infants are the most susceptible to severe symptoms associated with respiratory syncytial virus. When a young child contracts RSV, they may begin to act fussy, be less hungry or have trouble nursing, or lack in energy. Sometimes, this virus can cause a baby to start wheezing, breathe rapidly, or start to turn blue from a lack of oxygen. Because RSV can be life-threatening to young children, the elderly, or people with other health issues, hospitalization may be necessary in such cases.

How is Respiratory Syncytial Virus Treated?

For a common respiratory syncytial virus infection in a healthy person, the infection will clear up on its own. Rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter cough and pain medications can help with symptoms in the meantime. When a person has a severe RSV infection, IV fluids, oxygen therapy, nebulizer treatments, and the use of a ventilator may be necessary treatments.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017
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