Many people have not heard of RSV because it typically results in a relatively mild, cold-like illness that clears up in a week or two. It is common enough that most children will experience an RSV-related illness by the time they turn 2 years old. However, RSV can cause more serious infections of the respiratory system in people of all ages, especially young babies and seniors. For these groups, RSV may cause illness that requires hospitalization.
- RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year old.
- An estimated 57,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized each year with illness related to RSV in the United States alone.
Key symptoms to look for when assessing your child, or another loved one, for RSV include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing (high-pitched noise when breathing)
- Persistent cough
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Decrease in appetite
In very young infants, RSV can be more difficult to recognize. Sometimes the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.
Certain people may be at greater risk for contracting RSV. If you are caring for a loved one who fits any of the following categories, you may want to watch for potential RSV symptoms:
- Infants born prematurely
- Very young infants (younger than 6 months old)
- Young children (less than 2 years old) with chronic lung or heart disease
- Children with weakened immune systems
- Older adults (65 years and older), especially those with weakened immune systems or chronic lung or heart disease
Currently there is no specific treatment for RSV. If your child is showing symptoms of RSV or any other respiratory symptoms that worry you, call your child’s doctor. A visit to the doctor is the best way to know if your child may have RSV, how serious it may be, and how the symptoms can be treated to help your child feel better.
For most people, the only ways to help prevent or reduce the risk of contracting RSV are common-sense measures, like:
- Frequent handwashing
- Keeping hands away from mouth, nose, eyes, and ears
- Staying away from others who may be sick
- Limiting time spent in daycare or similar environments that include a lot of children
Because RSV infection and illness are so common, and because the options available to prevent or treat RSV are limited, many people are working to develop a vaccine against RSV. And because young infants have the highest risk of severe RSV illness, one way to help protect them might be by offering an RSV vaccine during pregnancy (maternal immunization).
For more information about RSV and maternal vaccines, please click on the links below.