Learn About Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Key Facts

  • RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms in children and adults.
  • Severe RSV can be unpredictable and is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants
  • Adults 65 and over and adults with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems are at high risk for developing severe RSV.
  • People do not form long-lasting immunity to RSV and can become infected repeatedly over their lifetime.
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Nearly 100% of infants will contract RSV. While symptoms can be cold-like, they also can be more severe and even life threatening. Contact your healthcare provider should your child develop symptoms. Support for this educational campaign is provided by Sanofi Pasteur.

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Nearly 100% of children will be infected with Respiratory Syncytial Virus by age 2. Symptoms can be like a common cold. However, it can be life threatening. Trouble breathing or dehydration are signs of severe illness. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization of all infants. Contact your healthcare provider if symptoms worsen. Visit lung.org slash rsv to learn more.

What Causes RSV?

RSV is spread from person to person through close contact with someone who is infected via secretions from coughing and sneezing or touching objects such as toys or doorknobs that have the virus on them.

It takes between two and eight days from the time of exposure for someone to become ill. The illness normally lasts three to seven days, and it is during this time that those infected are most contagious. The peak season for RSV infection in the United States is fall through spring.

Who Is at Risk for RSV?

Most children contract RSV before age two simply because of contact with other children. Being in crowded places with people who may be infected or having exposure to other children or siblings who may be infected are common ways to pick up the virus.

Those at increased risk of RSV becoming severe or life-threatening are:

  • All infants or young children born prematurely, with congenital heart or lung disease, weakened immune systems or have neuromuscular disorders.
  • Older adults suffering from lung or heart disease, such as asthma, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People with immunodeficiency, such as organ transplant recipients, chemotherapy patients or HIV/AIDS patients

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: May 20, 2022

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