"Image showing common symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in adults. Includes coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing."

RSV Infection – Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More


Every autumn season, the incidence of the common cold and the flu skyrocket.

Since all infections that affect the nose, mouth, and throat (collectively known as upper respiratory tract infections) present with similar signs and symptoms, it could be quite challenging to tell the difference between them.

However, boosting your immunity is the ultimate solution to prevent these infections, reduce their durations when they occur, and lower the severity of their symptoms.

In this article, we will briefly define RSV influenza, then discuss its causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a prevalent virus that affects people everywhere in the world. However, the symptomatic infection is mostly present in children and infants.

Adults and healthy children may also experience some mild symptoms that resemble a cold when infected with RSV. However, infants and children with health problems could develop some serious symptoms. A classic example includes respiratory failure, which can be fatal without prompt medical intervention.

In infants, the RSV infection is one of the leading causes of respiratory and airway infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 58,000 children under the age of 5 years old get hospitalized every year due to RSV infections.

What causes RSV?

The transmission of RSV mostly occurs through close contact with an infected individual. A sneeze or cough is all that it takes for the virus to transmit from a contaminated individual to a healthy one.

On occasion, the virus may travel through surfaces. For example, if an infected person sneezes on a doorknob, touching it and then covering your mouth could lead to transmission. In children, the process often occurs when exchanging toys.

Researchers managed to identify a few factors that put an individual at risk of developing the RSV infection. These include:

  • Adults and children with a compromised immune system
  • Infants with cardiopulmonary defects
  • Adults over the age of 65
  • Living in crowded conditions
  • Children who attend daycare

The difference between RSV infection and the common cold

To understand the difference between these conditions, we first need to tackle the causative agents (i.e., viruses) that cause upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and their route of transmission.

What is the common cold?

The common cold occurs throughout the year with a peak incidence during the autumn and winter seasons.

This infection is caused by a group of pathogens known as enteroviruses; however, researchers identified many viruses that lead to the common cold (e.g., adenovirus, rotavirus, coronavirus).

Generally speaking, the signs and symptoms of the common cold are mild and disappear within a few days.

No specific treatment (e.g., antiviral drugs) is needed.

What is the flu?

Unlike the common cold, the flu mainly occurs during the period between December and February, which is often referred to as the flu season.

This infection is more severe than the common cold and has been responsible for some of the largest infectious outbreaks in human history (e.g., the Spanish flu).

Viruses that cause the flu include:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Paramyxovirus 1,2
  • Human influenza A and B viruses

Aside from drugs with limited action against the flu (e.g., Tamiflu), there is no curative treatment for this infection.

In other words, if you catch the RSV infection, your doctor will prescribe drugs that relieve your symptoms but won’t cure you. Examples of these drugs include acetaminophen (Tylenol), corticosteroids, and nasal decongestants.

Signs and symptoms of RSV

As mentioned above, the common cold and RSV present with similar signs and symptoms.

The table below will highlight the shared and different presentations:


Congested nose, sneezing, sore throat, headaches

Fever, muscle aches, joint aches

Shortness of breath (i.e., dyspnea)

Complications (e.g., pneumonia)

Severe complications (respiratory failure)

Common cold





RSV infection

Uncommon (mostly in infants)

Uncommon (mostly in infants)

Uncommon (mostly in infants)

How to prevent RSV

The optimal way to lower your risk of getting RSV is through handwashing. That’s right! Washing your hand frequently during the flu season will drastically lower your risk of contamination. You see, RSV has a lipid (i.e., fatty) membrane that is quite sensitive to soap and water.

You may have noticed that using soap quickly gets rid of grease and oil from your hands, which is due to the soap’s ability to break down the fatty structures. The same thing works for viruses.

Besides handwashing, there are some general tips that you can follow to improve the functioning of your immune system and optimize its viricidal (i.e., virus-killing) abilities.

General tips to optimize your immune system

1)      Dietary choices

Eating a healthy diet is simply indispensable for a healthy immune system. Make sure to bulk up on complex carbs, healthy fats, and proteins.

If you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals through your diet, consider taking supplements.

2)      Physical activity

Physical activity is crucial to boost the function of the immune system. Researchers note that a single exercise session is enough to optimize immune cell function.

Being active stimulates hormones and neurotransmitters to enhance cellular signaling between immune cells.

3)      Sleep quality

Sleep disorders (e.g., hypersomnia, insomnia, narcolepsy) are commonly cited as risk factors of immunosuppression. They also disrupt hormonal regulation and cognitive abilities. If your child is not sleeping enough hours, their risk of developing the RSV infection drastically increases.

According to the latest guidelines, adults should sleep at least 7 hours a night to stop certain metabolic pathways that promote inflammation and disrupt immune function. For children, the recommendations are different. Speak with your child’s pediatrician for tailored advice.

Takeaway message

RSV causes the influenza infection that may put you down for a few days to two weeks. Learning more about this virus can help you prevent its spread, which will protect you and your family.

Hopefully, this article cleared out some of the confusion surrounding this topic.  Find this helpful?...Please Like, Share and Follow @greatermood also check out our other health topics here

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.