Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious virus. For most adults, it’s slightly more contagious than other respiratory viruses, but there are ways to reduce your risk of contracting this virus.

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that can cause respiratory infections in adults and children. The symptoms of this infection can include runny nose, coughing, and fever.

Infection with RSV can lead to potentially serious complications in older adults as well as infants and young children. For adults, these complications may include pneumonia and worsening of other chronic health conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or congestive heart failure.

RSV can be transmitted from person to person. This article will take a closer look at how contagious RSV is and the steps you can take to reduce your risk of contracting it.

RSV is contagious. This means that it can be transmitted from one person to another.

You typically contract RSV from breathing in respiratory droplets containing the virus. You can also get it from touching a virus-contaminated surface or object and then touching your face.

What to know about the contagiousness of RSV

Exactly how contagious is RSV? In order to understand this, we’ll first need to introduce a concept called R0, which is a measure of how contagious or transmissible an infectious agent, such as a virus, is.

Simply put, R0 estimates how many additional infections a single infection will lead to. So, if a virus has an R0 of one, that means that one person with the virus will most likely pass that virus on to one additional person.

Researchers have tried to estimate R0 for many different viruses, including RSV. One 2016 modeling study estimated that the R0 for RSV was three. That means that one person with RSV may pass it to about three other people.

How does this compare to other respiratory viruses? The R0 of influenza A is estimated to be between 1.3 and 1.7. The R0 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been estimated at between two and three, although higher estimates have also been reported.

However, it’s important to note that R0 isn’t constant. It can vary based on many biological, environmental, and behavioral factors. For example, a 2021 review notes that studies estimating the R0 of RSV have found that it can range between 0.9 to as high as 21.9.


RSV is contagious. Generally speaking, it’s possible that one person with RSV may pass the virus to at least a few other people.

Taking preventive measures can go a long way in limiting the transmission of RSV through the community.

Anyone can get RSV at any age. Most people have had RSV by the time they are 2 years old. However, you can get RSV again after having had it at any age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, an estimated 60,000-160,000 older adults are hospitalized because of RSV, and between 6,000 and 10,000 adults die from RSV infection.

Adults at high risk for complications from RSV include adults:

  • over the age of 60
  • with chronic lung disease
  • with chronic heart disease
  • with weakened immune systems
  • living in nursing homes (or long-term care facilities)
  • with some other medical conditions

When you contract RSV, there’s a period of time in which you can transmit the virus to others.

According to the CDC, the virus is contagious for 3 to 8 days after a person contracts RSV. You may also be able to transmit RSV a day or two before you begin to have symptoms.

Some infants and those who are immunocompromised may be able to transmit the virus for longer. These people can transmit the virus for up to 4 weeks, even if they no longer have symptoms.

From vaccines to handwashing, here are things adults can do to help prevent contracting and spreading RSV or experiencing serious illness from RSV.


There are currently three vaccines approved for use to help prevent RSV in adults:

  • GSK Arexvy: This vaccine is approved for use in adults aged 60 years and older.
  • Pfizer Abrysvo: This vaccine is approved for use in adults aged 60 years and older.
  • Pfizer Abrysvo: This vaccine is approved for use in adults who are pregnant during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy.

There are two RSV monoclonal antibody medications to help prevent RSV infections, but they are not approved or recommended for use in adults. They are FDA-approved for use in some infants and young children.

Precautions in your daily life

It may not be possible to completely prevent an RSV infection. However, there are steps that you can take in your daily life to reduce your risk and to reduce the spread of RSV if you have it, such as:

  • avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • washing your hands frequently with soap and water
  • avoiding touching your face, mouth, nose, or eyes
  • avoiding sharing items like eating utensils and drinking glasses with others
  • avoiding crowded areas, especially indoor spaces, where it’s difficult to keep your distance from other people
  • wearing a face mask if you’re in a public area and can’t keep a safe distance from others
  • disinfecting high-touch surfaces or objects in your home, such as mobile devices, light switches, countertops, and doorknobs

An RSV infection typically clears on its own with self-care at home, which includes:

  • getting a lot of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • using over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms like fever and runny nose

However, in some adults, an RSV infection can cause serious complications like pneumonia or worsening underlying conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or congestive heart failure.

Seek immediate medical care if you are experiencing:

How long is an adult contagious with RSV?

The CDC reports that individuals with RSV are contagious for 3 to 8 days after they contract RSV.

Can adults be around kids with RSV?

Adults with RSV are contagious to other adults and children for 3 to 8 days after contracting RSV. It’s a good idea to keep adults with RSV away from children, especially infants and young children who are at a greater risk of serious complications from RSV.

What are the first signs of RSV?

The first signs and symptoms of RSV in adults are similar to those of a cold – runny nose, reduced appetite, sneezing, and fever.

RSV is a contagious virus. Generally speaking, the contagiousness of RSV in adults is slightly higher or comparable to other respiratory viruses. One adult with RSV may potentially transmit the virus to several other people.

You can transmit the virus for 3 to 8 days after contracting RSV. The virus can remain contagious in some adults for longer.

You can reduce your risk of contracting RSV by taking preventive steps, such as avoiding contact with people who are sick, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding crowded public places where you can’t keep your distance from others.

There are vaccines to help prevent RSV approved for use in adults who are pregnant and adults 60 years of age and older.

If you are in a high risk group, concerned about RSV, or think you may have RSV, speak with your healthcare professional about what you can do to prevent RSV or serious illness from RSV. You have options.