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Health Department

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Mother holding baby daughter on her chest

RSV is a contagious illness caused by respiratory syncytial virus. Although RSV typically causes mild cold-like symptoms, it can be very serious in infants and older adults.

In Colorado, RSV infections generally increase in the fall and peak in the winter. Influenza and other respiratory illnesses also increase during the winter months. Precautions including hand washing, avoiding sick people, and disinfect high-touch surfaces can prevent the spread of RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

RSV in infants and young children
RSV can be more dangerous for infants than older children and adults. Infants younger than 6 months of age, premature infants, children younger than 2 years with chronic lung or heart disease, children with weakened immune systems, and children with certain neuromuscular disorders are at greatest risk of severe RSV illness. Infants with RSV may not have typical symptoms including runny nose and cough. Instead, they may have irritability, decrease in activity, decrease in appetite, and difficulty or pauses in breathing. If your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or if symptoms are worsening, seek immediate medical attention. If your child is at risk for severe RSV, avoid spending time around sick people, wash your hands often, and disinfect surfaces frequently touched by others. If you are sick, stay home from public places including school and work.

RSV in older adults
Some adults are at greater risk for severe RSV infection. Adults over age 65 may be at increased risk. Adults of any age with chronic heart or lunch disease or weakened immune systems are also at increased risk of severe illness. RSV infection may result in pneumonia or severe complications requiring hospitalization. RSV may also result in the worsening of existing conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure. If you are at high risk for severe RSV infection, or if you live or interact with those at high risk, the following precautions can reduce the chance of infection:


What are the symptoms of RSV?

Symptoms of RSV may include runny nose, cough, fever, wheezing, and a decrease in appetite. Young infants with RSV may have irritability, decrease in activity, and difficulty breathing.

How is RSV spread?

RSV is transmitted when tiny droplets from a sick person coughing, sneezing, and talking land in the mouth, nose, or eyes of another person. RSV can also spread when a healthy person touches surfaces or objects with virus on them and then touches their mouth or nose.

Who is at risk of severe illness from RSV?

Premature infants, young children with congenital heart or chronic lunch disease, young children or adults with a weakened immune system, adults with underlying medical conditions, and older adults are at greatest risk of severe disease.

How can I avoid getting RSV?

There are no vaccines to prevent RSV infection. Avoiding contact with sick people, wash hands often, and avoiding touching your face.

To prevent RSV in infants and young children, keep them away from anyone with cold symptoms. Consider limiting their time in childcare facilities or settings with exposure to many people during peak RSV season.

How long is RSV contagious?

People are usually contagious in the 3-8 days after RSV symptoms begin.

What should I do if I have RSV or a cold?

There is no medication to directly treat RSV. For most people, RSV illness resolves within 1-2 weeks. Avoid dehydration by drinking fluids. Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter medication. Do not give cold medication to children before speaking with their healthcare provider.

Stay home when you do not feel well to avoid spreading RSV to infants, children and older adults who may experience severe illness.

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