Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Season

respiratory syncytial virus

COVID-19 is not the only virus in town. We’re also seeing respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — in fact, this year many states are seeing more cases, earlier in the year than usual.

Respiratory syncytial virus is a common virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. However, it can be serious, especially for babies under 6 months. RSV is the most common cause of two kinds of lung infections: bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in American infants. It’s also the leading case of hospitalization in babies under one year.


Infants may be irritable when they are coming down with RSV. They may become less active, eat and drink less, and have trouble breathing. They might not show symptoms like sneezing or coughing. Since RSV can be serious for babies, call your pediatrician if you notice these symptoms. 

Usually, RSV causes symptoms like these:

  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • fever
  • wheezing
  • sneezing
  • loss of appetite

Most kids over six months of age will get over RSV in a week or two, and can be treated at home with cold medications.

However, older adults with chronic heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems may need medical care. 

An important thing to know: you can’t tell the difference between respiratory syncytial virus and other viruses just by looking. Your doctor will need to make the diagnosis. If you think your child might have RSV, call your doctor.

How does RSV spread?

RSV, like COVID-19 and many other respiratory viruses, is transmitted by droplets when people cough or sneeze. Sharing a cup or kissing can spread the virus, too.

RSV can also live on hard surfaces for several hours. If the virus is left by droplets on a counter or a toy, it can be picked up and transferred to eyes, nose, or mouth by another person. That person can catch the disease.

The rules for avoiding RSV should sound familiar:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Keep your hands away from your face, especially from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Sanitize surfaces regularly. 

Wearing a mask will also help protect you from RSV. There is no vaccine for RSV at this time.

If your child has cold-like symptoms, keep them at home to avoid spreading RSV or any other virus.

Respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19

It is possible to catch both RSV and COVID-19 at the same time. Children are showing up in hospitals with both diseases. 

Be cautious this year.

This is a good time to keep your kids away from crowds. Make sure not to allow anyone to smoke or vape near your children. Mask up at school or day care. And don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you have concerns.