Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Symptoms in Adults and Young Children


What is RSV?

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a virus that can cause infections in the respiratory tract and lungs. This virus usually causes severe respiratory infections in infants and young children, especially in those born prematurely or with congenital heart disease or Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD). However, RSV can infect adults as well.

RSV symptoms are similar to those of a cold or flu and usually tend to be mild. Home care is sufficient to relieve symptoms and restore ailing body.

However, RSV virus infection can cause more serious symptoms in infants 1 year of age or younger, the elderly, patients with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms of RSV Infection?

Symptoms of RSV infection usually appear after 4-6 days of exposure to the virus. In children 2 years of age or older and adults, symptoms resemble those of a cold or flu and include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sneeze
  • Fever
  • Breathing wheezing
  • Hard to breathe
  • Limp body
  • Decreased appetite, and
  • The skin looks blue due to lack of oxygen

RSV Symptoms in Adults


Meanwhile, according to CDC, RSV infections can be fatal in some adults. It is estimated that 60,000-120,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized each year, with 6,000-10,000 of them dying as a result of RSV infection. Adults who are most at risk of severe RSV infection include:

  • Adults over the age of 65
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
  • Adults with weakened immune systems

When an adult infected by RSV virus, they typically experience mild cold-like symptoms, but some may suffer a lung infection or pneumonia.

RSV occasionally lead to worsening of serious conditions such as:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing.
  • Congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart is unable to circulate enough blood and oxygen throughout the body.
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Older adults who have severe condition due to RSV infection, should be hospitalized. If it’s not, can cause death. Because our immune systems weaken when we are older. Hence, RSV infection is more dangerous to older adult compared than young children.

What Causes RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. This virus is easily transmitted through the air from saliva (droplets) infected by RSV.

A person can be infected when having close or direct contact with an infected person. RSV also can stay on the surface of objects, such as tables, doorknobs, and toys for a long time.

Based on the CDC’s explanation, the virus can be more contagious in the early stages of infection. This means that someone who is infected can infect others more quickly a week after infection occurs.

However, patients with severe symptoms can still transmit the virus even after symptoms subside, for at least 4 weeks.

Complications Caused by RSV Infection

In severe cases, RSV can cause patients to develop more serious respiratory infections. The following are some of the respiratory diseases or complications caused by RSV infection.

1. Bronchiolitis

According to the NHS, RSV is a viral infection that causes bronchiolitis. RSV infection attacks the lower respiratory tract, precisely in the bronchial branches, namely the bronchioles.

Subsequent infection causes inflammation in the bronchioles thereby increasing the production of mucus in the lungs. The buildup of mucus can block breathing, causing shortness of breath.

In children or infants, symptoms can be more serious because they have smaller respiratory tracts.

2. Asthma

Severe cases of RSV infection in adults and children can lead to asthma later in life. Usually, asthma occurs after the patient recovers from an RSV infection.

3. Middle Ear Infection

If the RSV virus enters the ear, behind the eardrum, it can infect the middle ear. This complication is more common in infants and children.

In addition, children aged 2 years or older can be infected with the RSV virus more than once. However, the symptoms do tend to be milder than the initial infection.

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How to treat RSV virus infection?

For mild cases, home care can help speed up recovery. In general, the RSV virus infection will go away on its own after 1-2 weeks.

While resting at home, you can take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain and fever. Also increase the consumption of fluids to prevent dehydration.

If cough symptoms appear, avoid giving cough syrup to children. Natural cough remedies, such as gargling with salt water or drinking ginger and turmeric tea, can be an option.

Meanwhile, RSV that causes severe symptoms can be treated with antiviral drugs or intensive care in a hospital.

Doctors may consider giving palivizumab vaccine injections to prevent complications of RSV in children 2 years of age or younger.

This injection even serves as protection to prevent RSV infection at the beginning or recurrence of infection.

FAQ about SRV

What are the first symptoms of RSV in adults?

The RSV symptoms in adults have several sign, typical runny noser, cough, sneeze, fever, hard to breathe, limp body, decreased appetite, and the skin looks blue due to lack of oxygen.

Meanwhile for adults over the age of 65 can experience worse complications such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary, and congestive heart failure.

How long does RSV symptoms last in adults?

The RSV infection will go away on its own after 1-2 weeks. For mild cases, home care can help speed up recovery. Currently, the researchers are still working to develop vaccines and antivirals (medicines that fight this virus).


  • CDC. (2022). Symptoms and Care for RSV. Retrieved 05 Nov 2022, from
  • Mayo Clinic. (2021). Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – Symptoms and causes. Retrieved 05 Nov 2022, from
  • Rose, E., Wheatley, A., Langley, G., Gerber, S., & Haynes, A. (2018). Respiratory Syncytial Virus Seasonality — United States, 2014–2017. MMWR. Morbidity And Mortality Weekly Report, 67(2), 71-76.
  • Thornhill, E. M., Salpor, J., & Verhoeven, D. (2020). Respiratory syntycial virus: Current treatment strategies and vaccine approaches. Antiviral Chemistry and Chemotherapy28, 2040206620947303.


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