What is RSV?

What is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a virus that is like the common cold in healthy adults and older children, but can make infants and those who are immunocompromised very sick. RSV tends to be seasonal and its appearance usually coincides with the annual cold and flu season.


RSV can be spread via contact and droplet transmission. It is spread through the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes and by direct physical contact with an infected person. This virus can also live on hard surfaces for hours, so it can be transmitted by indirect contact as well.


Symptoms in an otherwise healthy individual would be the same as a cold: runny nose, sneezing, coughing, headache, and sore throat. Infants with RSV can get very sick and have lethargy, poor feeding, and difficulty breathing which can include retractions, wheezing, and cyanosis.


Treatment is just symptom management. In mild cases, this consists of resting and staying hydrated, and the illness will resolve in 1-2 weeks. Serious cases can require hospitalization and respiratory support that can range anywhere from oxygen through a nasal cannula to a breathing tube with a ventilator.


Preventing an RSV infection is just like the prevention of colds and the flu: wash your hands frequently, clean toys regularly, keep surfaces clean, stay away from those who are sick, and keep high-risk infants away from places with large groups of people such as stores, church, and large family gatherings.

Infants who are at high risk, such as those born prematurely, can be given a preventative medication called Synagis®. This is given by a monthly injection during RSV season.

The main takeaway about RSV for healthcare workers is that, while it is very common and generally a benign illness in most people, it can be very dangerous in babies, and parents need to be educated on it and take its prevention seriously. To learn more about RSV and other nursing concepts, or to test your knowledge, check out our practice tests, study guides, and flashcards for the NCLEX-PN.

What is RSV?

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