Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that often causes mild, cold-like symptoms but may result in severe illness in some people.
RSV spreads through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected people when they cough and sneeze. RSV can also spread through dried mucus or saliva (spit) on bedding and similar items.
Like influenza (flu), RSV infections are most common in the fall and winter months.
Symptoms begin four to six days after exposure and develop slowly over several days. People are usually contagious for three to eight days and can be contagious before they have symptoms. Most people recover in one to two weeks. Symptoms, particularly cough, can last for a few days to several weeks.
Symptoms of RSV often include:
In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, decreased appetite and breathing difficulties.
RSV infection can cause pneumonia, especially in the very young, the very old or those who have weakened immune systems.
Anyone can be infected and RSV can be serious, especially in infants and older adults. People at the highest risk of severe symptoms include:
It is possible to get RSV again after recovering from an RSV infection.
There are new vaccines and medicines to help prevent RSV in people ages 60 and older and to infants and young children.
Everyone can decrease the risk of getting and spreading RSV and other respiratory viruses:
Parents of young children should be careful to wash their own hands and their children’s hands often and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Keep children who are sick home from school.
There are two new RSV vaccines available (Arexvy and Abrysvo) for adults ages 60 years and older. Talk to your health care provider about whether RSV vaccination is right for you.
Two monoclonal antibody products are available to protect infants and young children from severe RSV infection.
In addition, the new Abrysvo RSV vaccine is recommended for pregnant people during weeks 32 to 36 of pregnancy to protect the infant. If vaccine is not given during pregnancy, it is recommended that the newborn receive nirsevimab. In most cases, only one option (vaccination of the pregnant parent or nirsevimab given to the infant) is needed to protect the infant. Expecting parents should discuss with their provider which option is right for them.
The symptoms of RSV can be similar to symptoms due to infections with other respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19, cold and flu, as well as some bacteria. Doctors may recommend RSV or other diagnostic tests.
There is no specific treatment for RSV infection. If you or your child have severe symptoms that might be caused by RSV, seek medical attention. Health care providers can provide supportive care.
If you do not have a health care provider, call 311 or 844-NYC-4NYC (844-692-4692) to be connected to NYC Health + Hospitals. Care is available in NYC regardless of immigration status, insurance or ability to pay. If it is an emergency, call 911 or go to the hospital.