Identifying the signs & symptoms of RSV
Unless tested, many individuals may not know they have the virus due to the similarity of symptoms to those of the common cold.
Last updated: October 2023
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms which predominantly has high transmission rates in the fall and peaks in the winter. While most people recover from the virus within 1-2 weeks, RSV is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections. Unless tested, many individuals may be unaware that they have had RSV since the virus presents with symptoms experienced with other common respiratory infections that cause cold-like symptoms.
In some populations, such as infants and high-risk adults, RSV can be serious. Each year, an estimated 60,000-160,000 older adults are hospitalized due to RSV and its associated complications, such as dehydration and difficulty breathing. Approximately 10% of hospitalized adults with an RSV infection succumb to its systemic effects.
RSV is the primary cause of pneumonia, as well as bronchiolitis, characterized by inflammation of the small airways of the lungs, particularly among children under 1 year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, an estimated 58,000-80,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized annually due to RSV infection, as the virus can progress to more severe manifestations of pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
Typically, healthy infants and adults who contract RSV do not require hospitalization. However, certain individuals with RSV infection, particularly infants under 6 months old and older adults, may need to be hospitalized if they experience difficulties with breathing or dehydration. In severe cases, additional measures such as supplemental oxygen, intravenous fluids or intubation with mechanical ventilation may be necessary. Hospitalization in these instances usually lasts only a few days.