Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Is RSV Contagious?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is contagious. In the United States, it's the most common cause of inflammation of the small airways in the lungs (bronchiolitis) and of pneumonia in children under 1 year of age. It also is significant cause of respiratory illnesses in older adults. Nearly all children in the U.S. will have been infected by RSV by 2 years of age. RSV usually causes a mild respiratory infection, but it can occasionally cause more serious infections that require hospitalization from breathing compromise with bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection facts

  • RSV is a highly contagious virus infection that most commonly causes illness during the winter season.
  • Most children who develop an RSV infection have mild symptoms of fever, nasal congestion, and nasal discharge.
  • High-risk groups are more likely to have a more severe disease process, including wheezing (bronchiolitis in infants) and/or pneumonia. Such high-risk groups include premature infants, those children with a compromised immune system, or those with chronic pulmonary disease or congenital/acquired cardiac disease.
  • Supportive care is the mainstay of therapy. For high-risk patients, palivizumab (Synagis) preventative therapy is available.

What is the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), discovered in 1956, is capable of causing a broad spectrum of illnesses. Older children and adults will commonly experience a "bad cold" lasting one to two weeks. Fever, nasal congestion, and cough are their most common complaints. However, in babies and toddlers, RSV can produce severe pulmonary diseases, including bronchiolitis (inflammation of the terminal airways which produces wheezing) and pneumonia (infection of these terminal airways).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2015
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