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Can Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cause injury or death?

Updated September 24, 2023


For most people, RSV is similar to the common cold, with symptoms that include coughing, sneezing, wheezing, fever, runny nose, and decreased appetite. In children under the age of six months, RSV symptoms may only include difficulty breathing, decreased appetite, decreased activity, and increased irritability.  Most people recover from RSV illness within one to two weeks without treatment. 

RSV infection that spreads to the lower respiratory tract can cause complications such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways of the lung). Symptoms of severe infection may include wheezing, cough, fever, difficulty breathing, and cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin caused by lack of oxygen). In infants, severe illness symptoms may include irritability, lethargy, rapid or shallow breathing, poor feeding, cough, and trouble breathing.  It is estimated that one to two cases out of 100 require hospitalization, with premature infants and immunocompromised children being at highest risk for severe disease.     

RSV complications in adults may include pneumonia or lung infection, and illness may worsen chronic underlying medical conditions such as asthma, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Among adults 65 years of age and older, it is estimated that RSV illness causes 60,000-160,000 hospitalizations and 6,000-10,000 deaths a year. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

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