What is RSV?
RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) is a common respiratory illness that can affect anyone. RSV typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can cause serious illness in infants and older adults. RSV typically occurs during the fall and winter months and is the most common cause of inflammation or infection of the lungs in children younger than one year of age.
This year there are new RSV vaccines and medications available for older adults, pregnant women in their third trimester, and newborns to protect against severe illness or hospitalization for this virus. Talk to your family health care provider about RSV vaccines and monoclonal antibody preventive treatments to stay safe this season.
People at the highest risk for severe disease from RSV include
- Premature infants
- Young children with congenital (from birth) heart or chronic lung disease
- Young children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment
- Children with neuromuscular disorders
- Adults with compromised immune systems
- Older adults, especially those with underlying heart or lung disease
RSV is spread through droplets from a person who coughs or sneezes, especially in or near your eyes, nose, or mouth. You can catch RSV when you have direct contact with a person who has the virus, or if you touch a surface that has the virus on it and then touch your face before washing your hands.
People who are infected with RSV can pass the virus on for 3 to 8 days after becoming infected. Some infants, and people living with weakened immune systems, may continue to spread the virus for as long as 4 weeks. RSV spreads quickly at school and child care centers and children can transmit the virus to other members of the household or family.
Symptoms of RSV show up within 4 to 6 days after a person is infected. RSV symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
Symptoms may not appear all at once. Really young infants with RSV may only show the symptoms of irritability, decreased activity, poor feeding, and trouble breathing.
Seek emergency treatment if your child has trouble breathing, is not drinking enough fluids, or if symptoms worsen. Those who do not have a provider or health insurance should visit MDH’s website to find a local health department near them.
This year, CDC has recommended multiple, new immunizations to protect those most at risk of getting very sick with RSV: infants, toddlers, and adults 60 years and older. Talk to your family’s health care provider about these important new tools in the fight against severe RSV.
There are also steps you can take to protect yourself and family from respiratory illnesses such as RSV, flu, and COVID-19.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover your coughs & sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands.
- Get your flu and COVID shots. Contact your primary care provider, pharmacy, local health department, or visit MarylandVax to find a flu clinic near you.
- Stay home when you’re sick.
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as door knobs and mobile devices.
- Consider wearing a mask.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these steps to relieve symptoms:
- Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Never give aspirin to children.)
- Drink enough fluids. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
- Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child non-prescription cold medicines. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not good for children.
- Healthy adults and infants infected with RSV do not usually need to be hospitalized. But some people with RSV infection, especially older adults and infants younger than 6 months of age, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated.