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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

An adult coughed into her elbow.

RSV is a major cause of respiratory illness in all age groups.

Among infants and young children, it is the most common cause of bronchitis, croup, ear infections, and pneumonia.

Both older adults as well as infants and young children are most likely to get serious complications if they get sick with RSV.

A vaccine can prevent RSV for adults. A monoclonal antibody (an injection) is used to prevent RSV in young children. 

The best way to prevent RSV is to get the vaccine or monoclonal antibody.

For the latest information on RSV data in Wisconsin, see the Respiratory Illness Data webpage. For weekly case count updates for all respiratory viruses in Wisconsin, see the Weekly Respiratory Surveillance Report, P-02346.

Respiratory viruses are primarily spread to others by respiratory droplets and aerosols that travel through the air when an infected person breathes, speaks, sings, coughs, or sneezes. They can also be spread by contact – either with the infected person (like kissing or shaking hands), or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. These viruses can survive on surfaces for many hours.

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as four weeks. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or child-care centers. They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.

People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days after getting infected. Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Wheezing

There is no specific treatment for illnesses caused by RSV. Most people will recover on their own. You can relieve your symptoms by:

  • Taking pain or fever medications (note: never give aspirin to children)
  • Using a room humidifier or taking a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough
  • Drinking plenty of liquids to stay hydrated
  • Staying home and resting

If you are concerned about your symptoms, contact your health care provider.

For RSV prevention the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends:

Adults - Adults 60 years and older get one dose of vaccine.

Pregnant people - Pregnant people should receive one dose of vaccine between 32-36 weeks of pregnancy. This is dose is to be administered during September-January. This provides protection for the infant during RSV season.

Learn more about the American College of Clinicians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendation for maternal RSV vaccination.

Infants and children

  • Infants younger than 8 months born during or entering their first RSV season (October-March) get one dose of the monoclonal antibody (niresevimab).
  • Children 8-19 months old who are at increased risk for severe RSV disease should also receive the monoclonal antibody (nirsevimab).

Note: Either RSV vaccination during pregnancy or monoclonal antibody (nirsevimab) for infants younger than eight months is recommended. However, both products are not needed for most infants.

Find out if you or your children are up to date on RSV preventatives. Check our Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Wisconsin Immunization Registry.

If you’re worried about cost, your family may be eligible for free vaccines. Read about our Vaccines for Children program.

RSV infections are most common in the fall and winter.

Graph showing the seasonality of Respiratory Syncytial Virus over the past four years

Questions about respiratory syncytial virus? Contact us!
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976

Wisconsin Local Health DepartmentsRegional officesTribal agencies

Last revised April 15, 2024