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RSV Infection - What Is It?

February 8, 2023

Respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, is a common virus affecting the respiratory system. While most individuals will experience mild symptoms such as those of a cold and make a full recovery within two weeks, on occasion RSV can lead to more serious outcomes. In particular, infants and the elderly are at greater risk for complications from RSV than other age groups, which can include bronchiolitis or pneumonia. In fact, of all viruses causing these conditions in children under the age of one in the United States, RSV is the most prevalent cause.

Is RSV contagious?

Respiratory syncytial virus

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a very contagious virus, and most people will experience at least one infection within the first two years of life. RSV is easy to spread, especially early on in the course of an infection. Symptoms can appear as early as four days after being exposed to the virus and remain contagious for up to one week after they start. In some cases, such as babies or those with immune system vulnerabilities, the virus may stay active for up to a month. It's important for anyone who has been affected by RSV to practice good hygiene and prevent others from being exposed through contact.

How does RSV spread?

The virus is spread by airborne droplets released into the air when a person with RSV sneezes or coughs, which can enter the respiratory system through the mouth, nose, or eyes. It is also possible to obtain RSV by coming into contact with an object previously touched by an infected individual; such objects may include counters, door knobs, and other surfaces. 


After the virus enters the body, symptoms may take two to eight days to begin appearing. These can start as milder indications and then develop into more severe ones over time. Commonly reported symptoms to include:

  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever

It is also possible to suffer from muscular aches and pains, as well as decreased activity or appetite.

How is RSV diagnosed?

When diagnosing a respiratory virus, healthcare providers typically take a medical history and conduct a physical assessment. For the majority of pediatric patients, it is not necessary to differentiate between RSV and the common cold. If a child has significant risk factors or more severe symptoms, then additional testing may be performed to ensure an accurate diagnosis. 

To identify the presence of RSV, diagnostic samples are collected from nasal fluids using either a cotton swab or suction from a bulb syringe. Knowing the specific source of infection will allow for better treatment options and help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by a respiratory illness.


RSV usually lasts as long as one to two weeks and typically resolves on its own without any special treatment or medical intervention. To help the patient feel better while waiting for it to resolve, some at-home treatments can alleviate the symptoms, such as;

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat fever or pain
  • Increase fluid intake to stay hydrated 
  • Eat regularly, even with a low appetite
  • The use of a cool mist vaporizer may help soothe dry breathing passages if it is recommended by your doctor
  • Avoid smoking, vaping, or using any tobacco products
  • Using saline nasal drops to help loosen mucus in the nose
  • Get plenty of rest

Reedsburg Area Medical Center and RSV

RSV is a serious respiratory virus that primarily affects infants and young children. However, anyone can catch RSV, and it can cause severe illness in people of any age. If you think you or your child may have RSV, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The best way to protect yourself and your family from RSV are to practice good hygiene habits, like washing your hands often and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. 

For more information about RSV or other respiratory viruses, visit RAMC today.