Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection

About Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in New York State – November 2022

Just like flu and COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection typically spreads during the fall and winter months. A common respiratory virus that can be especially harmful to very young children, older adults, or those born preterm or with underlying lung conditions, it's important for New Yorkers, parents, and guardians to learn about preventing RSV spread, managing symptoms and care, and how to protect loved ones at the greatest risk of getting very ill.

While RSV is not a virus that is reported to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) at the individual level (as is done for COVID-19), NYSDOH does work to ensure that the State is aware of any outbreaks happening in New York, which are investigated by local health departments. At this time, no outbreaks of RSV have been reported.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection is a common respiratory illness caused by a virus. Anyone can be infected, but RSV most often causes serious illness in infants and very young children. The virus can also cause serious illness in older adults or those with a weakened immune system. Much like other respiratory viruses, RSV infections typically occur during the fall and winter.

How does RSV spread?

RSV is spread through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected people when they cough and sneeze. RSV can also spread through dried respiratory secretions on bedclothes and similar items. RSV can remain on hard surfaces for several hours and on skin for shorter amounts of time.

What are RSV symptoms?

Typical symptoms resemble the common cold. However, RSV infection can also result in pneumonia, especially in the very young, the very old or those with weakened immune systems. However, mild or unnoticeable illness may occur.

Symptoms generally begin four to six days after exposure. Symptoms generally develop slowly over a period of several days. The contagious period is usually less than 10 days after symptoms begin, but occasionally is longer. Symptoms, particularly a cough, may persist for a few days to a number of weeks.

How is RSV diagnosed?

RSV is diagnosed by a pediatrician/health care provider. It is usually identified from the appearance of typical symptoms. The use of specific laboratory tests is often limited to cases of severe illness and to special outbreak investigations.

If my child or I have symptoms consistent with RSV, what should I do?

If you or your child have symptoms consistent with RSV, or any respiratory illness, contact a health care provider right away who can help you with diagnosis and care. While sick, stay home from school or work to prevent spreading the illness.

If your child was born preterm and is at high risk of developing severe infection due to underlying lung conditions, talk to their health care provider about Palivizumab (Synagis). This medication is a monoclonal antibody recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to be administered to high-risk infants and young children likely to benefit from immunoprophylaxis based on gestational age and certain underlying medical conditions. It is given in monthly intramuscular injections during the RSV season, which generally occurs during fall, winter, and spring in most locations in the United States.

If my child or I do catch RSV, what care is available?

If you or your child have symptoms consistent with RSV, reach out to a health care provider right away, especially if symptoms are severe. A health care provider will advise on diagnostics and care, but there are steps New Yorkers can take to relieve symptoms. According to CDC:

  • Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Never give aspirin to children.)
  • Drink enough fluids. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines. Some medicines contain ingredients that are not good for children.

How can I prevent RSV?

To prevent RSV and other respiratory viruses that circulate during the fall and winter, including COVID-19 and flu, adults, parents, and guardians should make sure they and their children:

  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 shots and receive an updated booster as soon as eligible.
  • Get an annual flu shot.
  • Teach children to cough and sneeze into a tissue or into their elbows rather than their hands.
  • Practice good hand hygiene, and keep frequently touched surfaces (tables, utensils, doorknobs) clean.
  • Stay home from work or school when sick, until symptoms subside.
  • If you have very young children or elderly adults at home, including a child who was born 29 weeks or earlier or a child or adult with congenial lung disease, try to keep them isolated from family members who develop respiratory viruses or symptoms.
  • Keep social distancing in mind, which can aid in reducing spread.
  • Ventilate indoors or keep windows open for air circulation when and as possible.
  • Consider wearing a mask when indoors or in crowded settings. This may be important for parents, guardians, siblings, and other friends/family members who may live with newborns, very young children, or elderly who are at the highest risk, and are looking to take precautionary measures.

Find a nearby location for your flu shot here or your COVID-19 shot here to make sure you, your children, and loved ones have protection against both flu and COVID-19.

Is there a vaccine available to prevent and protect against RSV?

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine yet to prevent RSV infection, but scientists are working to develop one. According to CDC, there is a medicine that can help protect some babies at the highest risk for severe RSV disease. Health care providers usually give this medicine (called palivizumab or Synagis) to premature infants and young children with certain heart and lung conditions as a series of monthly shots during RSV season. Parents or guardians who are concerned about their child's risk for severe RSV infection should talk to their child's healthcare provider.

Are cases of RSV reported to NYSDOH?

Individual cases of RSV are not currently reported to NYSDOH. Outbreaks of RSV would be investigated by local health departments and reported to the Department. At this time, the Department has no such reports.

Where can I find information about RSV cases in New York?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks some cases of RSV at the State level, which New Yorkers can view here. This data is based on participating laboratories in New York who report the total number of RSV tests performed that week, and the number of those tests that were positive, to CDC. Because reporting delays may be expected for some laboratories, data shown for the most recent weeks, in particular the most recent two weeks, may be less complete than others. Each point on CDC's trend graphs display the average number of RSV tests that were performed, and the average percent of those that were positive from three adjacent weeks: the specified week, and the weeks preceding and following it. This is also known as a centered 3-week moving average. CDC's RSV detection graphs display the 5 week moving average (average of the 4 previous and current weeks) in accordance with the recommendations for assessing RSV trends by detections.

CDC state-level trends are only displayed when two or more labs report RSV testing data for at least 36 of the prior 52 weeks presented by diagnostic method. If data for a state are too sparse to display during a particular week, CDC recommends viewing the trends at the HHS Region or Census Division level that contains the state of interest.

The Department of Health produced three videos to be shared on social media: A short clip and a longer version geared toward parents; and a version aimed specifically at health care providers.

Additional Resources: