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  • RSV is a common cause of acute respiratory infections in children and adults.
  • RSV infection tends to cause more severe symptoms in babies and toddlers, but adults are also susceptible to severe effects.
  • RSV may cause damage to your lungs, airways, or heart that’s long lasting or permanent.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of acute respiratory infections in children and adults. It may cause mild cold-like symptoms or more serious illness, including severe bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

RSV infection tends to cause more severe symptoms in young children, but it can also cause serious illness in older children and adults. The risk of serious illness is higher for adults who are 65 years or older, as well as those with chronic lung disease, heart disease, or compromised immune systems.

In some cases, RSV may cause tissue and organ damage that lasts for several weeks, months, or longer after the infection has passed. Although more research is needed, it may raise your risk of chronic lung and heart disease.

Most people with RSV infection recover fully, even without treatment.

But in some cases, RSV may cause damage to your lungs, airways, or heart that is long lasting or permanent.

Some people may have long-term effects from RSV, including increased risk of chronic lung conditions.

Respiratory issues

A 2017 review linked RSV infection in early childhood to increased risk of recurrent wheezing and asthma later on. Most of the studies only followed participants for 1 to 8 years after the infection, but some studies followed participants for longer and found increased risk of wheezing and asthma that continued into adulthood.

RSV may also cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to get permanently worse.

Heart disease

A 2018 review found that viral respiratory infections such as RSV may also damage your heart and raise your risk of heart disease. The risk appears to be highest in the first few days after you’re diagnosed with the infection, but some level of increased risk may last for months.

A 2010 study from this review found that adults who had a heart attack were more likely than those without heart disease to have antibodies to RSV. Those antibodies are a sign of past RSV infection. More research is needed to learn how long the increased risk lasts after RSV infection.

General health

A 2020 study also found that RSV can affect your health in the mid- to long-term after infection. The authors of this study recruited older adults who were hospitalized with RSV and followed up with them for a year after discharge. Almost a third of those who were 75 years or older died within a year of infection.

Many of the participants in this study had pre-existing heart or lung conditions, which often got worse with RSV. For example, 50% of those with pre-existing asthma and 38% of those with pre-existing congestive heart failure developed worse symptoms after contracting RSV.

You can find answers to more questions about RSV in adults below.

How long does it take to recover from RSV in adults?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most RSV infections get better on their own within a week or two.

It may take longer to recover if:

  • you develop a severe infection or complications from RSV
  • you have an underlying health condition that makes it harder to fight off infections or heal
  • you take certain medications or other medical treatments that suppress your immune system

If you develop severe symptoms or complications from RSV, you may need treatment in a hospital.

Talk with your doctor to learn more about your outlook.

Can RSV last for months in adults?

RSV infection typically resolves within a week or two, at which point the virus is no longer active in your body.

For some people, it may take a few weeks for the infection to pass.

RSV infection may cause tissue damage that takes longer to heal. As a result, you may have some symptoms that linger after the infection itself has passed.

RSV infection also raises your risk of secondary bacterial infections and may contribute to chronic lung conditions or heart disease. These conditions may cause long lasting symptoms that require treatment.

If you develop a cough, wheeze, or other symptoms that last for more than a couple of weeks, talk with your doctor.

If you’re having trouble breathing or your mouth or nails develop a blue tint, get medical help right away. These are potential signs of a serious respiratory infection or other problem that requires immediate treatment.

Your doctor can help you learn whether your symptoms are caused by an infection or other health condition. Your treatment options and outlook will depend on the cause of your symptoms.

Does RSV stay in your body forever?

RSV won’t stay in your body forever, but it sometimes causes long lasting tissue or organ damage.

It’s possible to contract the virus more than once in your lifetime.

What is the treatment for RSV?

Mild RSV infections typically resolve without treatment. You may use over-the-counter medications to manage mild symptoms such as cough, runny nose, and low grade fever.

If you develop severe symptoms, your doctor may prescribe supportive care such as:

  • inhalers
  • fever reducers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or antipyretics
  • supplemental oxygen
  • intravenous fluids

Doctors sometimes prescribe antiviral medication for RSV, but this treatment is rare for adults.

Severe RSV infection raises your risk of secondary bacterial infections, which can worsen your symptoms. If you develop a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

RSV infection can cause serious illness, especially in young children and older adults. Adults with chronic lung conditions, heart disease, or compromised immune systems have increased risk of serious infection.

RSV infection typically gets better on its within a couple of weeks, but in some cases, it may cause tissue or organ damage that lasts after the infection itself has passed. Sometimes this damage may be long lasting or permanent.

Some research suggests that RSV infection may raise your long-term risk of chronic wheezing and asthma. It may also increase your risk of heart attack. More research is needed to learn how long the increased risk lasts.

Let your doctor know if you develop cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath that’s severe or lasts more than a couple of weeks. They can help you learn what’s causing your symptoms and how to manage them.

Although most cases of RSV infection get better without treatment, severe cases may require supportive care in a hospital. Short- or long-term complications from RSV may also require treatment to manage.