Symptoms and Signs of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 12/2/2022

Doctor's Notes on Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cause different illnesses, the most common of which is a common cold. In babies and toddlers, it can cause more severe illnesses including pneumonia and bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways). RSV is a highly contagious infection that most often occurs in the winter months.

In most people, RSV leads to the typical signs and symptoms of a cold or upper respiratory infection, including:

  • nasal congestion,
  • runny nose, 
  • cough, and
  • mild fever.

Swelling around the vocal cords can cause a bark-like cough. Symptoms associated with more severe infection may include:

  • significant fever,
  • wheezing, and
  • bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis) around the mouth and fingernails.

Young infants may experience difficulty feeding and episodes of apnea (stopped breathing).

What Is the Treatment for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection?

There is no specific treatment for RSV infection, and most infections go away on their own. Treatment can be used to manage symptoms, such as medications to control fever and pain (ibuprofen or acetaminophen). It is also important for the affected person to consume enough fluids.

Aspirin should never be given to children, and over-the-counter cold medications should also not be used without the advice of a doctor.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.