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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

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Quick Facts

  • RSV typically causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, and congestion. Fevers are common. The infection can progress to the lower respiratory tract to cause more severe illness such as bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) or pneumonia in otherwise healthy infants and young children.
  • RSV is highly contagious through close contact with infected people, and it can live on toys and other surfaces for several hours.
  • Most children will have an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old, and most will get better on their own within 8 to 15 days.
  • Every year, 75,000 to 125,000 children in the United States are admitted to the hospital for RSV infections.
  • For most children, fluids are the best treatment. Bronchodilators, medicines prescribed to help reduce airway resistance, may ease breathing in some cases. Antibiotics do not work against RSV, but a healthcare provider may prescribe them for complications that develop because of RSV.
  • Although deaths are relatively rare, RSV can be life-threatening for immune-compromised people, including premature infants, young children with heart and lung problems, and the elderly.
  • Researchers are working toward a vaccine, but none currently exists.  

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Last Updated December 01, 2008