Respiratory Syncytial Virus Symptoms & Causes

In the United States, RSV is more common during the winter and spring months. For most children and infants, RSV is a virus that can be managed on an outpatient basis. However, about 0.5 to 2 percent of children and infants who develop RSV may require hospitalization. The disease usually runs its course in one to two weeks. Children who are at risk for developing more severe cases or RSV include the following:

  • children/infants younger than 1 year, particularly those between 6 weeks and 6 months
  • premature infants
  • children/infants with breathing or heart problems
  • children/infants with weakened immune systems
  • children/infants with weakened immune systems

How is RSV transmitted?

RSV transmission occurs by coming in contact with infectious material either from another individual or inanimate object. The secretions from the eye, mouth, or nose (and possibly from a sneeze) contain the virus. The virus can also survive for many hours on inanimate objects such as doorknobs, hard surfaces and toys. It can also live on human hands for up to 30 minutes.

If my child has RSV, how long will he or she be contagious?

After being exposed to the virus, symptoms may not appear for four to six days. An individual with RSV is usually contagious for three to eight days, although this may be longer in younger children.

Symptoms of RSV

The following are the most common symptoms of RSV infections. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • lethargy and inactivity
  • irritability
  • poor feeding
  • episodes of apnea (more common in infants; an event where an infant may not take a breath for longer than 10 seconds)
  • nasal discharge that is usually clear
  • fever
  • wheezing (a high-pitched sound usually heard on inspiration, breathing in)
  • rapid breathing
  • cough
  • retractions (pulling in) of the chest wall
  • nasal flaring
  • rattling in the chest that may be felt over an infant's back or chest