Banner Health Services  

Signs and symptoms of RSV


Kris Korte is Senior Infection Preventionist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.

Question:  What is RSV?  

Answer: Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, is a virus that causes acute respiratory illness in people of any age.  It occurs as a yearly epidemic during the fall, winter and early spring and infects just about all children, sometime in the first three years of life. RSV can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus-containing droplets from the cough or sneeze can linger briefly in the air, and other people can become infected if the droplet particles contact their nose, mouth or eye. 

Question: What are the symptoms?  

Answer: In infants and young children, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Bronchiolitis is characterized by severe coughing, wheezing and respiratory distress.  Older children and adults infected with RSV usually have a minor cold or upper respiratory tract illness, occasionally with bronchitis, and can transmit the infection to others.  Coughing and sneezing are common methods of transmission.

Question:  How is RSV diagnosed?  

Answer: Diagnosis of RSV infection is most frequently made by isolating the virus from a swab of nasopharyngeal secretions, frequently combined with a throat swab.

Question:  Is RSV treatable?  

Answer: For children with mild disease, no specific treatment is necessary other than the treatment of symptoms.  Children with severe disease may require oxygen therapy, suctioning of mucus from the airways, and sometimes mechanical ventilation. There is no specific treatment for RSV infection.

Question: Does RSV have any long-term effects?  

Answer: Re-infection throughout life is common. A prior history of having RSV does not prevent you from contracting the virus again.  The severity of disease decreases with subsequent infections and the frequency of re-infection decreases with age.  Long-term after-effects can include hyperactive airway disease and childhood asthma.

Question:  How can RSV be prevented?  

Answer: There is no RSV vaccine available. Prevention efforts should focus on good infection control practices, especially on frequent hand-washing, since children are frequently infectious before symptoms appear. Disposal of tissues used to clean nasal secretions, routine cleaning and disinfection of toys and environmental surfaces, and not sharing items such as cups, glasses, and utensils with persons who have RSV illness are important in preventing the spread of disease. RSV can survive on environmental surfaces for several hours and for 30 minutes or more on hands.

Page Last Modified: 02/23/2015
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