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(Respiratory Synctial Virus)


Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a virus that infects the lungs and respiratory tract causing cold-like symptoms. It's so common that most children have been infected with it by the time they're 2 years old. The virus can also infect adults. Self-care measures are usually all that's needed to relieve discomfort. But RSV can cause severe infection in premature babies, infants, children and adults with heart and lung disease, older adults, and anyone with a weakened immune system. For severe infections, a hospital stay may be needed.


Symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in adults and older children often include a mild stuffy or runny nose and dry cough. They also include a low-grade fever, sore throat, and mild headache. Severe infections may cause symptoms like fever, severe cough, wheezing, rapid or difficult breathing, and a bluish skin color. In infants, the chest muscles and skin may pull inward with each breath as they struggle to breathe. They may also cough, take shallow and rapid breaths, and feed poorly. Unusual tiredness and irritability are other infant symptoms. Because RSV and COVID-19 are both types of respiratory viruses, some symptoms of RSV and COVID-19 can be similar.

Signs and symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus infection most commonly appear about four to six days after exposure to the virus. In adults and older children, RSV usually causes mild cold-like signs and symptoms. These may include:

  • Congested or runny nose

  • Dry cough

  • Low-grade fever

  • Sore throat

  • Sneezing

  • Headache

In severe cases

RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis — inflammation of the small airway passages entering the lungs. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever

  • Severe cough

  • Wheezing — a high-pitched noise that's usually heard on breathing out (exhaling)

  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing — the person may prefer to sit up rather than lie down

  • Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis)


Infants are most severely affected by RSV. Signs and symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants include:

  • Short, shallow and rapid breathing

  • Struggling to breathe — chest muscles and skin pull inward with each breath

  • Cough

  • Poor feeding

  • Unusual tiredness (lethargy)

  • Irritability

Most children and adults recover in one to two weeks, although some might have repeated wheezing. Severe or life-threatening infection requiring a hospital stay may occur in premature infants or in anyone who has chronic heart or lung problems.

Who are Most At-Risk:

People at increased risk of severe or sometimes life-threatening RSV infections include:

  • Infants, especially premature infants or babies who are 6 months or younger

  • Children who have heart disease that's present from birth (congenital heart disease) or chronic lung disease

  • Children or adults with weakened immune systems from diseases such as cancer or treatment such as chemotherapy

  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy

  • Adults with heart disease or lung disease

  • Older adults, especially those age 65 and older

How to Protect Against RSV

Health Canada approved BEYFORTUS™ (nirsevimab), a monoconal antibody, for the prevention of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) lower respiratory tract disease (LRTD) in newborns and infants during their first RSV season, and children up to 24 months of age who remain vulnerable to severe RSV disease through their second RSV season. 

AREXVY is a vaccine available for adults aged 60+.

Talk with your child's doctor or health care team to find out more about medication to help protect you or your child from RSV.

Lifestyle habits

These lifestyle habits can help prevent the spread of RSV infection:

  • Wash your hands often. Teach your children the importance of hand-washing.

  • Avoid exposure. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Limit your baby's contact with people who have fevers or colds.

  • Keep things clean. Make sure kitchen and bathroom countertops, doorknobs, and handles are clean. Put used tissues in the trash right away.

  • Don't share drinking glasses with others. Use your own glass or disposable cups when you or someone else is sick. Label each person's cup.

  • Don't smoke. Babies who are exposed to tobacco smoke have a higher risk of getting RSV and potentially more-severe symptoms. If you do smoke, never do so inside the house or car.

  • Wash toys regularly. Do this especially when your child or a playmate is sick.


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An education grant for an RSV education campaign was provided by:

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