Respiratory Syncytial Virus

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

Steven J. Schweon, LLC
Saylorsburg, Pa.

Patricia Lawrence, MS, BSN, BS, RN, CIC Director of Infection Prevention

Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) at Anna Jaques Hospital
Newburyport, MA

October 2, 2014
December 5, 2022
Declarations of Conflicts of Interest:
  • Patricia reports no conflicts of interest, although she is also a Consultant for APIC Consulting and an APIC Text Clinical Editor
  • Steve works with a full-time consulting practice and is a consultant for Safety and Disaster Solutions, Inc. (SDSi) in addition to APIC Consulting. Former employer of Healthcare Services Group, Inc. He is a committee member of the APIC Practice Guidance Council and IPAC Canada.


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.