RSV is often mistaken for the common cold because of its symptoms, which include coughing, sneezing, runny nose and fever. Typically, RSV disappears on its own within a week or two. However, RSV can sometimes cause severe illness such as pneumonia and poses a greater risk for young children, infants and older adults.
RSV comes and goes without complication for most children. For infants and those with chronic conditions such as asthma, RSV is more likely to develop into a more serious form of the infection or another severe lung illness such as bronchiolitis. An infection that affects small tubes in the lungs, bronchiolitis can make it difficult to breathe. RSV is the leading reason that infants are hospitalized with bronchiolitis in the United States.
Children with higher risk factors for severe RSV include:
Though many adults can get through an RSV infection with mild symptoms, adults who are 65 or older can develop serious conditions like pneumonia or congestive heart failure. Older adults with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more likely to develop complications from RSV and may need to be hospitalized. As with children, chronic conditions and weakened immune systems can cause RSV to become serious and even life threatening.
RSV is a highly infectious virus that can live on hard surfaces for hours. People who have contracted RSV are typically contagious for three to eight days, but they can spread the disease for as long as four weeks if they have weakened immune systems.
If you’re living with young children or older adults, it’s important to take these steps to help prevent them from catching RSV:
If your child or loved one is dehydrated, wheezing excessively, having difficulty breathing, experiencing a high fever or is discharging thick, colored mucus, contact a health provider immediately.
If your child is at higher risk of infection, talk with your pediatrician about a plan to protect your child.