Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Steven J. Schweon, RN, MPH, MSN, CIC, LTC-CIP, CPHQ, FSHEA, FAPIC Infection prevention consultant

Infection prevention consultant
Steven J. Schweon, LLC
Saylorsburg, Pa.

Patricia Lawrence, MS, BSN, BS, RN, CIC Infection Preventionist

APIC Consultant/Independent Consultant
Dundedin. FL

December 5, 2022
October 2, 2014
Declarations of Conflicts of Interest:
  • Patricia Lawrence was an APIC Text Associate Section Editor at time of writing. She declares no other conflicts of interest.
  • Steven Schweon discloses an adjunct faculty position at Drexel University. Steve works with a full-time consulting practice and is a consultant for Safety and Disaster Solutions, Inc. (SDSi) in addition to consulting for Medline and APIC Consulting. He is a committee member of the APIC Practice Guidance Council, IPAC Canada and is a Clinical Editor for the APIC Text.


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an RNA-type virus that infects the respiratory tract. It spreads by direct or indirect contact with large droplets produced from the nasopharyngeal area. Symptoms are usually mild, but they can progress to the lower respiratory tract, leading to the coalescence of cells (i.e., syncytia). Severe RSV infection (e.g., pneumonia, bronchiolitis) occurs mostly in infants, older adults, and people with immunocompromised systems, respiratory conditions, or other chronic comorbidities. Immunity to RSV is short lived. Annual seasonal outbreaks occur in temporal areas, whereas ongoing, intermittent outbreaks occur in tropical areas. Diagnosis is primarily based on clinical symptoms, knowledge of local outbreaks, and evaluation of the individual’s likelihood of environmental exposures (e.g., close living arrangements, daycare, long-term care). If laboratory testing is used, polymerase chain reaction is the recommended test for all age groups; antigen testing may be used in infants. Treatment is mainly supportive. Currently, RSV vaccines are unavailable. Recommended infection prevention measures include droplet and contact precautions, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and cleaning/disinfecting items that have come in contact with RSV secretions.