By: Nicole Llinas, Triple-S Health Educator

One of the most prevalent viral infections starting now with the winter season and into spring (October through March) is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV mostly causes mild cold-like symptoms and is most common in children under the age of 2. However, it can lead to serious infections in infants less than 12 months old, adults aged 60 or older, and people with respiratory compromise.

Respiratory syncytial virus can be spread from one person to another by:

  • Coughing or sneezing (airborne spreading)
  • Direct contact, such as touching or kissing the face of a child who has the virus.
  • Touching an object or surface contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands.

People with RSV can shed infection to others for 3 to 8 days and may be contagious one or two days before the onset of signs or symptoms. On the other hand, some infants and immunocompromised patients may keep shedding the virus for up to 4 weeks after their symptoms stop.

RSV signs and symptoms often start 4 to 6 days after exposure to the virus. The usual symptoms in older adults and children are:

  • Congestion
  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

In severe cases, RSV can spread to other parts of the respiratory system, ending in pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Some of the signs and symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish skin color due to lack of oxygen

Most RSV infections clear up on their own after one to two weeks. However, the linked symptoms may be relieved by staying hydrated and using analgesics for the fever and the pain, among other measures, as recommended by your doctor.

How to protect yourself and others

Vaccines help protect those who are most at risk of being severely ill: infants, children, and adults age 60 and older.

There are two ways to protect your baby from getting a severe case of RSV. First, pregnant people may get a single dose of RSV vaccine if they are between week 32 and week 36 of their pregnancy during RSV season. You can also protect your baby with the RSV antibody treatment shot (if the infant is under 8 months old and was born during RSV season or is about to start their first RSV season).

As for people age 60 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend they receive the RSV vaccine because they are at higher risk of developing severe complications from the virus.

The spread of RSV can also be prevented through healthy habits, such as:

  • Washing your hands often
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Cleaning surfaces frequently
  • Washing your hands before touching your face
  • Not sharing cups or knives and forks with others
  • Staying home if you’re sick

Remember to talk with your healthcare provider this season to check if the RSV vaccine or other measures against RSV are right for you. 

Take the needed precautions and enjoy the season!