Children's Hospital Colorado

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

We see more, treat more and heal more kids than any other hospital in the region.

U.S. News & World Report ranked in all 10 specialties badge

Get Care

Do you need to talk to a nurse?

Get Care Now

From emergency to urgent care to 24/7 pediatric advice, we’re here to help in the heat of moment.

See your care options

What is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a condition that infects the airways, lungs, throat and nose. In most babies and children, RSV causes minor symptoms similar to the common cold that last a week or two. RSV can lead to more serious complications if symptoms last longer.

RSV infection can be dangerous for infants born prematurely or with chronic lung or heart conditions. RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia (a lung infection) and bronchiolitis (inflammation in the lung’s small airway passages) in children younger than 1.

How common is RSV?

RSV is very common — in fact, most people have had the virus by the time they turn 2.

What causes an RSV infection?

Similar to other respiratory infections, your child can get an RSV infection by the virus entering through your child’s mouth, eyes or nose.

RSV spreads primarily through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. If someone with RSV coughs or sneezes near your child, respiratory droplets carry the virus in the air and your child can get infected by breathing in the droplets.

Your child can also get the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then rubbing their eyes or touching their finger to their mouth or nose. The virus can live on hard surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches or crib railings, for several hours.

Who gets RSV?

Anyone can get RSV. It’s most common in children who have close contact with each other in daycares or schools. Children may bring the virus home and spread it to siblings and family members. RSV infection is most widespread in fall through early spring, the same time as flu season.

Some people have a higher risk of severe infections or complications of RSV, including:

  • Adults with heart or lung disease
  • Children and adults with compromised immune systems, such as from cancer or chemotherapy treatment
  • Children with congenital heart disease, lung disease or neuromuscular disorders
  • Infants, especially those under 6 months and those born prematurely
  • Older adults, especially those over 65

Next steps