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Reviewed 2/5/2024

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) quiz: True or false?

How common is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)? Almost everyone gets this illness by their second birthday. That ranks it right up there with the common cold. It’s good to know at least a little about RSV, because it sometimes can be serious, especially in younger children.

True or false: RSV is usually a mild, cold-like illness.

TRUE. RSV is usually mild, but it can become a more severe infection, such as bronchiolitis (inflammation of the airways in the lungs) or pneumonia (a lung infection). RSV can also lead to dehydration. Babies, children and older adults with underlying health conditions are among those at risk for severe RSV that sometimes requires hospitalization.

True or false: RSV, colds, flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms.

TRUE. Early symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, a cough and a fever. (Very young babies may only seem tired and cranky.) Other respiratory illnesses can cause these symptoms too. One difference is RSV typically doesn’t cause a sore throat, whereas a cold, COVID-19 and the flu sometimes do.

True or false: Antibiotics can cure RSV.

FALSE. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, such as RSV. Fortunately, most RSV infections get better in a week or two. Until then, you can treat the symptoms. Giving children fluids to drink helps them stay hydrated. You can use saline drops and a bulb syringe to suction a baby’s stuffy nose. Talk to your healthcare provider before giving a child nonprescription cold medicines.

True or false: Healthy habits can help prevent RSV.

TRUE. RSV spreads through respiratory droplets, close contact and by touching contaminated surfaces. To help prevent RSV, wash your hands often with soap and water, avoid sick people and cover your coughs and sneezes.

True or false: Trouble breathing is one sign RSV is worsening.

TRUE. Call or see a doctor if someone with RSV has trouble breathing. In babies, watch for fast or short breathing; a chest that’s sunken in; or blue or purple skin. (In darker skin, watch for changes to lips, tongue, gums and around the eyes.)

If you have questions about RSV symptoms, treatment or prevention, talk to your doctor.

Learn about proper handwashing


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