What is RSV? 

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is a virus that infects the respiratory tract. Most children are exposed to this virus within their first two years of life, which is the most common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis in children. However, anyone can get RSV, and the virus usually causes only mild cold-like symptoms in older children and adults but can cause severe illness in infants, especially premature babies.

                          Picture CD RSV Virus CDC
    RSV Virus Courtesy: CDC

About 58,000 U.S. children under five are hospitalized with RSV each year. CDC says 1-2% of children under six months who are infected with RSV may need to be hospitalized 

The CDC reported that while RSV is among the leading causes of hospitalization in young children, "the virus also poses a greater threat to senior citizens and immunocompromised adults."   


The symptoms depend on the severity, age and health of the person infected. The most common symptoms are:  

  • Coughing (Mild to severe)  
  • Sneezing  
  • Runny nose  
  • Fever  
  • Decrease in appetite 

In very young children, symptoms can be more hidden: 

  • Irritability 
  • Decreased activity 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Reduced energy during feeding 

Other symptoms could include:  

  • Discoloration of skin  
  • Rapid breathing  
  • Wheezing  

How RSV spreads: 

  • Someone who has RSV coughs or sneezes.  
  • You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth.  
  • You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing a child's face with RSV.  
  • You touch a surface with the virus, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands.  

People infected with RSV could be contagious one or two days before showing symptoms and are usually contagious for three to eight days. 

Populations most at-risk: 

Everyone should take precautions this respiratory season. But some groups are especially at risk and more vulnerable to severe illness:  

  • Infants, especially premature infants and children with underlying health conditions  
  • Children under five years (especially under two years).  
  • Adults 65 years or older.  
  • Those who are pregnant.  
  • Anyone with a health condition like asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease or heart disease.  

Steps to keep your family safe: 

There is no vaccine yet to prevent RSV infection, but scientists are working hard to develop one. And there is a medicine that can help protect some babies at high risk for severe RSV disease. Healthcare providers usually give this medicine (called palivizumab) to very premature infants and young children with certain heart and lung conditions as a series of monthly shots during RSV season. If you are concerned about your child’s risk for severe RSV infection, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. It's important to note there is no vaccine for RSV, but Pfizer plans to seek approval for one administered during pregnancy.   

You can also help limit the spread of RSV just like you've done for COVID-19. Especially if you are around young children or older adults, take these steps:  

  • Stay home and away from vulnerable people when you are sick.  
  • Wash your hands frequently throughout the day.  
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, then wash your hands.  
  • Limit the time you spend in childcare centers or other potentially contagious settings.  
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used if soap and water are not available.  
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  
  • If coughing and sneezing, consider wearing a mask when you must be around others. 
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces on a regular basis with a disinfectant that kills RSV. 
  • Consider wearing a mask around those most at risk.   

Is there a treatment for RSV? 

Since RSV is caused by a virus, antibiotics cannot be used to treat this infection. Over-the-counter medications can be used to manage the symptoms. It is vital to ensure adequate fluid intake and prevent dehydration.  

Other ways to protect your family: 

If you haven't already, during the Fall get your flu shot and the latest COVID booster!   

Bivalent Pfizer and Moderna boosters protect against both the original COVID-19 strain and omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. They provide the best protection against severe illness.  

  • Everyone five and older can get an updated booster two months after their last booster dose or primary series of vaccines.  
  • The Novavax booster is now available for people 18 and older who can't or don't want to get an mRNA vaccine.  

Check Vaccine Locator and/or VaccineFinder to locate a provider near you. Find community pop-up locations COVID-19 Vaccine Information - Benton Franklin Health District (wa.gov)