When a person becomes infected with RSV, the virus begins to multiply within the body. After four to six days, symptoms can begin. The period between becoming infected and the start of symptoms is called the incubation period.
For infants, RSV symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
This virus also causes repeated infections throughout life. In adults, symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, including:
Severe lower respiratory tract disease can occur at any age. If severe symptoms of RSV occur, a person can experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Inability to get enough oxygen
- A bluish or purplish tinge to skin.
(Click RSV Symptoms for more information.)
RSV infections usually occur during annual community outbreaks, often lasting four to six months, during the late fall, winter, or early spring months (November through April). The timing and severity of outbreaks in a community vary from year to year.
In order to make a diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions and perform a physical exam, including listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. In infants, an RSV diagnosis can be suspected based on severe illness during an outbreak of RSV in the community. A diagnosis is more difficult to make in children than in adults because RSV symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory viruses, such as a virus that causes the common cold.
(Click RSV Diagnosis for more detailed information.)