Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection


RSV is a respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Healthy people typically recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious for infants or older adults. Those infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. They can become contagious a day or two before symptoms begin. RSV generally begins circulating in the fall and peaks during the winter months. RSV can spread from person to person when:

  • An infected person coughs or sneezes
  • You get droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
  • You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands

The only way to know if you have RSV is to get a laboratory test. There is no specific treatment for RSV. Talk to a healthcare provider to help manage you or your child's RSV symptoms.


People with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected. Common RSV symptoms include:

  • Runny Nose

    Runny Nose

  • Coughing


  • Sneezing


  • Fever


Other symptoms of RSV may include decrease in appetite or wheezing. In very young infants with RSV, symptoms may only be:

  • irritability
  • decreased activity
  • breathing difficulties

People at Higher Risk

Most people who get RSV will have mild illness. Some people may develop severe RSV infection and need care in the hospital. Severe infection may include bronchiolitis (inflammation of airways in the lung) and pneumonia. RSV can also make chronic health problems worse. The following groups are more likely to have serious complications associated with RSV:

  • Infants and young children
    • Premature infants
    • Infants 6 months and younger
    • Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or heart disease present from birth
    • Children with weakened immune systems
    • Children that have neuromuscular disorders (includes difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus)
  • Older adults
    • Older adults over 65 years
    • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
    • Adults with weakened immune systems


    RSV immunizations are available for these groups:

    • Adults age 60 or older
    • Pregnant people during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy
    • Infants and some young children

    Adults Age 60 and Over

    Older adults are at greater risk than young adults for serious illness from RSV. Certain underlying medical conditions may increase risk as well. If you are 60 years of age or older, talk to a health care provider to see if RSV vaccination is right for you.

    Pregnant People During Weeks 32 Through 36

    Infants are at risk for getting severe illness from RSV. When someone gets RSV vaccine, their body makes antibodies to fight the virus. This process takes about 2 weeks.

    When a pregnant person gets the RSV vaccine, these antibodies pass to the baby. Babies who are born at least 2 weeks after the pregnant person gets the RSV vaccine get protected at birth. This is when infants are at the highest risk for severe RSV disease. The vaccine can reduce a baby's risk of hospitalization from RSV by 57% in the first 6 months after birth. If you are pregnant, talk to a health care provider about getting RSV vaccine to protect your baby.

    Infants and Some Young Children

    Talk to a health care provider about getting an RSV antibody immunization for your child if:

    • Your child is younger then 8 months old, AND
      • born during their first RSV season (fall through spring)
      • entering their first RSV season (fall through spring)
    • your child is between the ages of 8 and 19 months old, entering their second RSV season, AND
      • They have chronic lung disease from being born prematurely
      • They are severely immunocompromised
      • They have severe cystic fibrosis
      • They are American Indian or Alaskan Native
    RSV Immunization Chart

    Everyday Prevention

    You can take the following steps to prevent the spread of RSV:

    • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hands.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Avoid close contact. This includes kissing, shaking hands, and sharing eating utensils with others.
    • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices.

    People with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk. If this is not possible, carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above. Wash hands before interacting with child(ren). Avoid kissing high-risk children while having cold-like symptoms.

    Information for Healthcare Professionals

  • RSV Information for Healthcare Providers
  • RSV Surveillance and Research
  • RSV References and Resources
  • Maine RSV Data
  • Resources

  • RSV Fact Sheet (PDF)