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Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

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.

An adult coughed into her elbow.

 Wisconsin is seeing increased Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) activity. 

For weekly case count updates for all respiratory viruses in Wisconsin, see the Weekly Respiratory Surveillance Report.


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.

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face (especially mouth, nose, and eyes).
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Disinfect objects and surfaces regularly (like doorknobs, countertops, and light switches).

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 November 2, 2022