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CDC infographic about preventing RSV

Pediatricians and public health agencies are currently warning that rates of RSV are rising unusually fast among children in California and other states. Here is some basic information to help you identify and respond to potential RSV cases in your family - as well as prevent them.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (sin-SISH-uhl), is a common respiratory virus that usually has symptoms and spreads like colds and viruses. Prevention and treatment of RSV is also much like prevention and treatment of colds and flus. 

However, the disease is not always mild. Infants and young children as well as older adults and those with compromised immune systems or neuromuscular disorders (such as those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions) are more likely to get serious complications if they get sick with RSV and are more likely to be hospitalized. Call your healthcare provider or seek emergency medical services if your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.


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

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

These symptoms usually appear in stages. Very young infants with RSV may only present with irritability, malaise, and breathing difficulties.

Note: Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.

When to Call the Doctor

  • Symptoms of bronchitis or dehydration 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gray or blue color to tongue, lips, or skin
  • Significantly decreased activity and alertness


RSV can spread from:

  • Getting virus droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
  • You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV

As such,  if you have cold-like symptoms you should:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and mobile devices


To help protect your child from getting or spreading RSV, encourage them to:

  • Mask while indoors
  • Wash their hands frequently
  • Avoid touching their eyes, noses, and mouths 

Please also keep all students who have symptoms of a respiratory virus home, as it can be hard to tell the difference between cold, flu, COVID, and RSV.

Extra Precautions 

Infants, young children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to get serious complications if they get sick with RSV. Severe infections can include bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia. RSV can also worsen chronic health problems such as asthma and congestive heart failure.

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