Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an infectious respiratory disease that can look and sound a lot like a cold, with coughing, sneezing and a runny nose.
But RSV can turn serious and send some patients to the hospital, particularly infants and young children. Learn more about what RSV is, including its causes, symptoms and treatment.
What is RSV?
RSV causes respiratory illness, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports.
“Can adults get RSV?” is a frequent question. Adults, babies and children can get RSV, according to the AAP. Sometimes the illness can be severe in infants and children. The risk of contracting RSV is also higher for premature babies, which is of particular concern for Black women, who are more likely to give birth to a premature baby.
In the United States, people usually get RSV from late fall through early spring. “This is a relatively common virus that used to be seasonal in the fall and winter. But over the COVID-19 years, we’ve seen some changes in that seasonality, with seasons starting earlier or ending later than usual,” Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician Mayo Clinic, said in a recent article.
You can catch RSV in several ways, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- An infected person coughs or sneezes near you
- You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
- You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
- You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
RSV can sometimes cause other health problems that can be more serious than RSV itself. Those problems, explained by the CDC, include:
- Bronchiolitis, inflammation (swelling) of airways in your lungs
- Pneumonia, a lung infection.
How is RSV diagnosed?
An RSV test for a child includes a nasal swab test. That’s where the pediatrician will use a cotton-tipped stick to remove some of the mucous inside your child’s nose. They may also order an X-ray and an oxygen saturation test, according to AAP.
RSV symptoms aren’t the same in babies and children as they are in adults. It’s important to know