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Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is not a reportable disease in Oklahoma; however, the Oklahoma State Department of Health investigates outbreaks of RSV to control the spread of this disease.  RSV season starts during the late fall or winter and continues into the spring much like the flu.  RSV causes a respiratory illness commonly affecting young children.  Anyone can get RSV but infection is most commonly found in children less than two years of age. It is the number one cause of pneumonia and lower respiratory infections in children under the age of 1 and a substantial cause of illness as well as death in older adults.  Notably, most children will have had RSV by age two.

The virus in transmitted through nose and throat secretions, either by direct contact or through air particles from coughs and sneezes.  Less often, people get RSV from an infected person that does not wash their hands or use an alcohol-based-hand gel with at least 60% alcohol after coughing or sneezing into them. In this way, the virus can be transferred from an infected persons’ hands by shaking hands or touching contaminated surfaces and a healthy person touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

The first symptoms of RSV include fever, runny nose, cough, and occasionally wheezing.  Less common symptoms are chills, headache, general aching, fatigue, or lack of appetite.  For children with mild disease, no specific treatment is necessary other than alleviation of symptoms.  Children with severe disease may require oxygen therapy and mechanical ventilation.  An antiviral aerosol may be used in the treatment of patients with severe disease.  Generally when adults are infected with RSV, the infection either produces mild, cold-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all.  For the very young, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions, symptoms can be more severe and including wheezing, shortness of breath, pneumonia and sometimes death.

How to prevent exposure to RSV:

  • Good hygiene habits prevent and reduce the transmission of RSV such as:
    • Covering your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when sneezing or coughing,
    • Disposing of tissues properly,
    • Washing hands frequently, and
    • Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers if hands are not visibly soiled.
  • When sick with a fever and cough:
    • Stay home from work, school, church, or other daily activities outside of the home,
    • Avoid other crowded areas or events like shopping malls or sports arenas,
    • Do not visit nursing homes, hospitals, or other long-term care facilities, and
    • Do not visit people at increased risk for severe complications.

RSV Fact Sheets and Information:

RSV Fact Sheet (44k.pdf)

External RSV Resources:

RSV (Medline)
KidsHealth RSV
American Lung Association RSV


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