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RSV Symptoms in Adults: How Long Will I Be Contagious?


Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a respiratory virus that typically causes mild cold-like symptoms but can cause infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. Almost all children catch it by the age of 2, but most people don’t realize how many adults catch it too. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 60,000 to 160,000 older adults are hospitalized, and 6,000 to 10,000 die due to RSV infection. It can be particularly dangerous for those who catch RSV while pregnant, have a weakened immune system, have chronic heart or lung disease, or are 65 years old or older. When RSV symptoms show up in adults, they can spread the virus to others. Here’s how long the contagious period lasts and what to do if you’re worried.

What Are Contagious RSV Symptoms in Adults?


RSV in adults presents very similarly to a common, mild cold. This includes dry cough, sore throat, sneezing, headaches, fever, and a congested or runny nose. More severe cases of the virus can cause pneumonia-like symptoms, including wheezing, bluish skin color, and rapid or difficulty breathing. Some RSV contagious symptoms in adults can develop into a lung infection or pneumonia.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, head to a local walk-in urgent care like American Family Care to get tested. Then, you can begin treatment immediately to avoid any serious complications.

When Is the Virus Contagious?


When RSV symptoms show up in adults, it’s most likely already contagious. The CDC notes that adults can become contagious a day or two before showing any signs of the illness. They can then transmit the virus for three to eight days, or even longer for those with a weakened immune system. RSV in the elderly and people with weakened immune systems can continue spreading the virus even after their symptoms are gone — sometimes for as long as four weeks.

The fact that you can be contagious before showing any RSV symptoms in adults is why you should take extra precautions during the RSV/flu season. Plus, the virus can live on surfaces for hours. You can follow these actions to help prevent the spreading of the virus:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Use soap and water to wash hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid being in close contact with those who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Clean surfaces frequently (like doorknobs).
  • Avoid sharing cups, bottles, or toys.

When Should I See a Doctor?


If you’re unsure what you’re sick with, you can get tested for RSV at the doctor. Medical professionals use a PCR test, the same one as a COVID-19 test, to determine if you have the virus.

RSV in elderly patients can worsen any condition they might already have, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or congestive heart failure. Therefore, these patients should visit a doctor.

The Mayo Clinic recommends anyone experiencing the following symptoms should seek medical attention: a high fever, difficulty breathing, or a blue color to the skin, particularly on the lips and in the nail beds. In addition, if you’re not drinking enough fluids, see a doctor to receive IV fluids.

Catching RSV While Pregnant


Researchers at The Cleveland Clinic found that mothers can transfer the virus to their fetuses, which can predispose them to airway hyperreactivity. This characteristic can cause chronic airway dysfunction and asthma in the child after birth. It’s believed that RSV might have more consequences when the woman is in her first trimester, which is before the baby develops an immune system. Researchers say this finding supports the reasoning to provide pregnant women with prophylaxis to help prevent the spread of the disease.

What Treatments Are There for RSV?


There is no cure for contagious RSV symptoms in adults. Nor is a vaccine available to prevent the virus. However, researchers across the world are working to come up with vaccines and antiviral medication. Right now, doctors recommend managing symptoms in adults with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and drinking lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Contact American Family Care for Help


If you feel your symptoms have taken a turn for the worst, call a doctor a walk into a family urgent care. You don’t need an appointment at American Family Care. You can also reserve a spot online that is most convenient for you. This helps reduce your wait time in the center so you can get back to doing what you love.  Find a location near you.

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