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Clinical Focus: Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)


The most common symptoms of RSV infection usually include:

  • Runny nose

  • Decrease in appetite

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

  • Fever

  • Wheezing


These symptoms typically don’t show up all at once. In young infants diagnosed with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing. RSV can also lead to more severe infections such as bronchiolitis, which is an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, and pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than one year old.


Studies show that almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday. People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected.


How do we treat RSV?

Most RSV infections go away on their own in about a week or two. You can manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Talk to your physician prior to giving your child nonprescription medicines, since some contain ingredients that are not recommended for children. It is important that children and adults with the RSV infection drink recommended fluids to prevent dehydration.


Visits to a healthcare provider for RSV are very common. During such visits, the provider should evaluate how severe the person’s RSV infection is in order to determine if the patient should be hospitalized. In the most severe cases, a person may require additional oxygen or intubation with mechanical ventilation (a machine to help someone breathe). Healthy infants and adults infected with RSV don’t normally need to be admitted to the hospital, but infants younger than 6 months and elderly people may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. If they are admitted, typically hospitalization only lasts a few days.

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