by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of many lung and airway infections, such as:


RSV is spread easily through fluids of the mouth and nose. The virus can live on surfaces and objects for hours. People touch the surface with the virus then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. It can also be spread by inhaling droplets from a sneeze or cough.

Risk Factors

RSV can infect people of all ages. It is more common in infants and young children. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Exposure to a person infected with the virus or a surface with the virus
  • Premature birth
  • Problems with the heart, lungs, or immune system
  • Current or recent use of chemotherapy
  • Previous organ or bone marrow transplant
  • Problems associated with muscle weakness


The symptoms can vary with age, health, and whether a person has had RSV before.

In children younger than 3 years old, problems may be:

  • Fever
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast breathing
  • Bluish color of the lips or fingernails
  • Being very drowsy or irritable
  • Lack of hunger
  • Discharge from the eyes

In children older than 3 years old and healthy adults, problems may be:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Mild cough
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the eyes


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will suspect a virus based on your symptoms.

There are tests to diagnose RSV. They are not usually needed. It will not affect treatment.


Antibiotics are not helpful because RSV is caused by a virus. Most infections will pass on their own. Treatment options include:

  • Supportive care, such as fluids, humidified air, and saline nasal drops
  • Medicine to ease pain or help with breathing
  • Oxygen therapy or breathing support


The risk of RSV can be lowered by practicing healthy habits, such as washing hands often and not sharing personal items. A shot may be given to babies and children who are at risk for RSV.


American Lung Association 

Kids Health—Nemours Foundation 


About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children 

Health Canada 


Bronchiolitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated September 24, 2019. Accessed January 13, 2020.

Respiratory syncytial virus. American Lung Association website. Available at: Accessed January 13, 2020.

Respiratory syncytial virus. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Updated February 2019. Accessed January 13, 2020.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated June 26, 2018. Accessed January 13, 2020.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated September 22, 2017. Accessed January 13, 2020.

Walsh EE, Hall CB. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). In: Bennett J, Dolin R, Blaser M, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. New York, NY: Saunders; 2015: 1948-1960.e3.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019
  • Update Date: 09/11/2020