What is respiratory syncytial virus?

Respiratory syncytial virus is a highly contagious virus that can cause serious breathing problems in infants, children, and even adults. In fact, this virus is so contagious that most children get it by the age of two. The virus is usually mild and most children and adults recover in a few weeks without medical attention. The condition typically causes serious breathing problems in infants under the age of six months, premature infants, and older adults with heart and lung disease. The virus in its mild form resembles a common cold.

Typically, symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus in infants include fever, lack of appetite, runny nose, coughing and wheezing. Older children may also experience a sore throat and headache. The virus can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia in children and adults. Symptoms of a lower respiratory tract infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, include high fever, severe coughing, difficulty breathing, severe wheezing, and bluish skin color due to lack of oxygen. Mild cases of the virus simply require rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen. More severe cases require immediate medical attention and possible hospitalization.

Respiratory syncytial virus is easily transmitted from person to person. You are at risk of infection whenever someone nearby who has the virus sneezes or coughs, which sends droplets into the air. These droplets can land in your nose, mouth or eyes, leading to infection. The droplets can also land on objects or hard surfaces, like doorknobs. Indirect infection is caused when you touch the object or hard surface and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes. The best way to prevent infection is frequent hand washing with warm water and soap. You should also avoid sharing cups or utensils.