Respiratory Syncytial (sin-sish-uhl) Virus, or RSV, is a very common virus that infects our airways. RSV can be serious, may require hospitalization including ICU care, and rarely can be fatal in infants and toddlers, as well as older adults and people with lung conditions or trouble with their immune systems.
RSV spreads like other respiratory illnesses through coughing and sneezing or close contact with someone with the virus. Unlike COVID, RSV also spreads easily by touching a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob or someone’s hands, and then touching your face before washing your hands. Most people recover in a week or two, but we are now experiencing a spike in serious RSV cases, especially among infants and young children.
Seasonal illnesses—COVID-19, flu and RSV—are spreading rapidly and straining our local hospitals. We have seen a rapid rise in RSV infections this year, however, all three illnesses are serious for those at high risk, including older adults and immunocompromised people of all ages, pregnant people, and infants.
The state of Oregon issued an emergency declaration on November 14 to help address pediatric hospital capacity concerns. Currently, our local hospital pediatric beds are over capacity, and it is going to take all of us working together in our communities to prevent further spread and to protect those at highest risk – infants and young children.
Learn more and sign up to automatically receive RSV updates from the Oregon Health Authority by visiting here.
Symptoms usually appear within a few days after infection. They include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Decrease in appetite
- Wheezing or trouble breathing
Symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. Most do not need to be tested for RSV as there's no special treatment. Call your healthcare professional if you or your child has trouble breathing or drinking enough fluids, or symptoms worsen. Call 211 if you need help getting access to care.
How to Prevent It
There is no vaccine for RSV, but there are ways to protect yourself and family from RSV, COVID and flu:
- Get your flu shot and stay up to date with your COVID vaccines.
- There is no vaccine for RSV yet, but we could have one in the next year or two.
- Mask indoors around other people, especially if you or someone you live with is at higher risk for severe disease. Masking can help prevent COVID, flu, and RSV.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your face or your child unless your hands are clean.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Wipe down commonly touched surfaces. This is especially important to prevent RSV which is spread from hands and surfaces touched by people with the virus.
You Can Spread RSV Before You Feel Sick
People with RSV are contagious for 3-8 days. RSV can spread 1-2 days before you feel sick, so it spreads easily in families and groups.
Caring for Someone Who’s Sick
There’s no specific treatment for RSV infection. Most infections go away on their own in 1-2 weeks. It is important to watch for serious symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider for severe or worsening symptoms, and consider the following:
- Stay home or have your child stay home
- If you have to go out, wear a mask
- Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow
- If your child has a stuffy or runny nose, talk with a doctor or pharmacist about how you can help clear their nose.
- Manage fever and pain in older infants with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Never give aspirin to children
- Do not give any fever-reducing medicine to any baby under about 3 months of age without talking to your provider first
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Get plenty of rest
- Emergency departments are very busy right now. Go to the emergency department if your child is struggling to breathe, is tiring out from breathing hard, or seems dehydrated (tired, fewer diapers/making less urine, not drinking well). If it is safe to do so, call your provider before going to the emergency department. They may have some advice that will keep your child safe or may be able to see you urgently in the clinic.
If you are sick and don’t know what illness you have:
- Contact your employer, school or child care for specific advice/instructions.
- Consider testing for COVID-19, and stay home at least 5 days if the test is positive
- In general for other respiratory illnesses, you can return to work, school, and other activities when:
- You have been without a fever for at least 24 hours AND your symptoms are definitely better.
- You are eating and drinking well.
- Your runny nose and cough are mild enough that you can participate in activities and keep your hands clean.
- Coping with respiratory illness season
- Clean and disinfect
- Protect yourself from RSV English and Spanish (from OHA and they say more languages to come)
- OHA blog posts in English and Spanish:
- CDC RSV pages
- Caring for children with RSV
- OHA video