Most people, including infants, develop only mild symptoms similar to that of a common cold but for some, RSV can be severe and even life-threatening.
RSV is highly contagious. Each year, an estimated 58,000-80,000 children younger than five years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection. Additionally, an estimated 60,000-160,000 older adults are hospitalized due to RSV.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended several new preventative options to help protect individuals at highest risk for getting severe RSV illness. These options are for infants, toddlers, and adults 60 years and older.
RSV Vaccine to Help Protect Older Adults
In June 2023, the CDC recommended RSV vaccination for adults 60 or older, after discussing with your healthcare provider about whether RSV vaccination is right for you. There are currently two licensed RSV vaccines for adults 60 or older. Older adults are at increased risk for severe RSV illness because as we age, our immune systems naturally weaken. Having certain chronic health conditions such as chronic lung or heart disease can also increase the risk of severe RSV illness.
Options to Help Protect Infants and Toddlers
The CDC has recommended two new ways to help protect your baby from severe RSV illness:
- A preventative antibody is recommended for all babies younger than 8 months old and born during or entering their first RSV season. Or,
- Receiving an RSV vaccination during pregnancy. This vaccine should be received if you are 32-36 weeks pregnant during RSV season (September through January).
The preventative antibody is also recommended for some children at increased risk between the ages of 8 and 19 months entering their second RSV season. Risk factors include:
- Chronic lung disease from being born prematurely
- Severe immunocompromise
- Severe cystic fibrosis
- American Indian and Alaska Native
Everyday Prevention Actions
There are some additional steps you should take to help prevent its spread. The most effective means of protection are some of the simplest, such as:
- Avoiding close contact with infected people
- Avoiding sharing cups, bottles or toys that may have been contaminated with the virus since the virus can live on surfaces for several hours
- Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after coming into contact with an infected person
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces.
How RSV Is Treated
Mild RSV infections will go away in a week or two without treatment. You can use over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers to manage your symptoms. Check with your doctor if you are not sure if an over-the-counter product is safe to give to your child. Your doctor may also suggest nasal saline drops or suctioning to clear a stuffy nose. Supportive care such as staying hydrated and comfortable is also helpful.
Possible RSV Treatments When Hospitalized
- IV fluids
- Mechanical ventilation
- Tube feeding
- Suction of mucus
In severe cases, most commonly for infants younger than 6 months of age and older adults, hospitalization may be needed. The hospital will use intravenous (IV) fluids to aid in hydration, and a breathing machine or humidified oxygen to help your body receive the oxygen it needs. In most cases, hospitalization will only last a few days.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: December 1, 2023