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Can Adults Get RSV Respiratory Infection?

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It is common in children – but RSV can also infect adults too.

Highly contagious

RSV is highly contagious and can spread easily from person to person through droplets from a sneeze or cough, or simply by talking. People can also be infected by touching their nose or eyes after touching contaminated items or surfaces, or by touching someone with RSV. A person is usually infectious for up to 10 days after symptoms begin. 

Generally, RSV symptoms are mild, but can cause severe infection in not only younger babies 12 months and younger, but also in adults – especially those age 65 or older, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system from disease such as cancer or treatment such as chemotherapy.


Symptoms commonly appear about four to six days after exposure to the virus and may include mild, cold-like symptoms such as:

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Headache

Severe infection

In severe cases, RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis – signs and symptoms may include:

  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Bluish colour of the skin (due to lack of oxygen)

When to see a doctor

Most children and adults recover in one to two weeks, although some might have repeated wheezing.

IMPORTANT! Seek immediate medical attention if you, or anyone at risk of severe RSV infection, has difficulty breathing, a high fever, or has a blue colour to the skin, particularly on the lips and in the nail beds.


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