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RSV in Adults


Respiratory syncytial virus or RSV is a common virus that can affect people of every age, including adults. Certain individuals can be at higher risk of infection and complications that require specialized care. However, RSV is also very treatable if it is diagnosed early.

RSV Overview

RSV is a common respiratory infection that occurs most often in children. Many adults who contract RSV may experience mild symptoms or never become sick. However, older adults have higher rates of infection and complications from RSV and other viruses due to increased vulnerability.

What Is RSV?

The senior doctor listen the heart of the elderly patient

RSV is a respiratory virus that typically manifests itself as a mild cold in most adults. According to the American Lung Association, the RSV timeline in adults is typically two to eight days of mild to moderate symptoms, similar to other viruses.1

How RSV Spreads

RSV is most prevalent from the fall to early spring. The virus becomes airborne, spreading via body fluid droplets that enter the body’s mucous membranes (mouth, nose, and eyes). RSV can also linger on hard and soft surfaces, making it easy to spread in this manner.

High-Risk Populations for RSV

According to the CDC, the populations at highest risk of infection from RSV include:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants younger than six months of age
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Older adults 65 years of age and beyond
  • Adults with weakened immune systems
  • Adults with chronic lung and heart disease2 

Overview of RSV in Adult Populations

RSV affects older adults differently than it does children. An infant or child with RSV may experience mild symptoms in addition to irritability. However, these symptoms can change in severity, leading to trouble breathing and loss of appetite.

Older adults with no preexisting conditions that contract RSV may experience symptoms similar to a mild cold, which can develop into pneumonia and lung infection.

Older adults with RSV and asthma, weakened immune systems, or other respiratory conditions like COPD or congestive heart failure can sometimes experience a worsening of these conditions, which may require hospitalization.

Causes and Symptoms of RSV in Adults

Infection from RSV occurs when the virus enters the nose, mouth, or throat via inhalation or contact with a hard or soft surface containing the virus, followed by touching the mucous membranes.

Existing respiratory or pulmonary conditions and age are the two main risk factors that contribute to the development of RSV in adults.

Common mild to moderate RSV symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

Severe RSV in adults has symptoms that include:

  • A wheezing or barking cough, which may indicate a worsening infection
  • Fever
  • Trouble breathing
  • Tiring easily after activities that don’t typically result in fatigue

Adults with existing respiratory conditions may experience worsening of their symptoms. Those taking medications to manage their existing symptoms can feel as though their medication has stopped working as it usually does.

Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Older adults, those with underlying conditions, or individuals who interact regularly with older adults can all take steps to prevent contracting and spreading RSV.

Washing and Disinfecting Your Hands

Washing your hands often, for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, is a simple yet highly effective way to prevent contracting and spreading RSV.

Soap and warm water dissolves the protective membrane that surrounds RSV and other common viruses and clear the hands of germs and bacteria. Where washing the hands is not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, as well as hydrogen peroxide, can help to eliminate viruses like RSV on the hands.

Other Common Prevention Methods

Other methods for preventing RSV transmission and infection include:

  • Avoid touching your face
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Stay home when you are feeling ill
  • Avoid contact with others who are ill
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects like phones


A provider considers the age of a person, potential underlying conditions that may be contributing to their symptoms, and the time of year that symptoms are being experienced. In some circumstances, other tests can be ordered to rule out other conditions that may be causing similar symptoms or to diagnose that a patient is experiencing complications.

Such tests may include blood tests, chest x-rays, pulse oximetry (to check blood oxygen levels), and nasal or oral swabs.


For non-severe or mild symptoms, supportive care with over-the-counter or prescription medications, rest, and sufficient hydration can help relieve RSV symptoms.

If symptoms are moderate or severe, consulting a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Crystal Run Healthcare can be an important step in getting timely treatment to relieve your symptoms and shorten the duration of an RSV infection.

Why Choose CRHC Pulmonologists for RSV?

Radiologist doctor analysis pulmonary x-ray and make a medical description of xray in notebook

Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Crystal Run Healthcare (CRHC) provides patients access to trained, skilled, and dedicated pulmonary specialists. Our pulmonologists treat all aspects of pulmonary diseases, including asthma, interstitial lung disease, chronic bronchitis, COPD, and cystic fibrosis.

CRHC is proud to have received accreditation from the American College of Radiology, which allows us to provide our patients with the safest and highest quality diagnostic equipment, such as bronchoscopy, CT scans, and on-site pulmonary function testing.

In addition to state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, CRHC specialists are also able to provide critical care services to severely ill patients who have been hospitalized. We currently provide these services at several hospitals and regional medical centers throughout New York State.

RSV is a treatable virus when detected early, but can cause serious complications in older adults with additional pulmonary diseases. If you or a loved one are experiencing shortness of breath or other symptoms which may indicate RSV, Crystal Run Healthcare provides pulmonary specialist care close to home; call 845-703-6999 to book your appointment or visit to book online.