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The respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common illness that most adults and kids contract at some point in their lives. In a young, healthy person, RSV does not typically cause complications and acts more like the common cold.

However, an RSV infection can be dangerous for certain groups of adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 60,000 and 160,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized yearly with an RSV infection.


Who is at high risk for an RSV infection?

Adults at high risk for contracting RSV and developing dangerous complications include those who:

  • Are older, especially over age 65
  • Have a chronic heart or lung disease, such as: 
    • Asthma
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD)
    • Congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Have other underlying medical conditions or 
  • Have weakened immune systems


What are the symptoms of RSV in adults?

Signs and symptoms of RSV typically occur four to six days after exposure. Symptoms may include:

  • Congestion
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Headache
  • Low-grade fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

In some cases, an RSV infection can spread to your lower respiratory tract, including your lungs. When this occurs, you may experience:

  • Cyanosis (bluish tint to the skin)
  • Fever
  • Quick breathing or trouble breathing
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing

Call 9-1-1 if you are experiencing trouble breathing, severe wheezing or a high fever.


How do I treat RSV?

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. If you have a mild RSV infection and can recover at home, your doctor may recommend:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relief and fever-reducing medications
  • Using saline nasal drops or sprays

How can I prevent an RSV infection?

Like the influenza (flu) virus and the common cold, RSV is more common during the colder months of fall and winter. If you are worried about catching or spreading RSV, you can take steps to reduce your risk, including:

  • Avoid contact with sick people and stay home if you do not feel well
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—especially with unwashed hands
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer

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