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

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 infants, young children, and older adults. These complications include an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs (bronchiolitis) and pneumonia.

RSV can be transmitted from person to person. This article will take a closer look at how contagious RSV is and the steps that 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.

Summary

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

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

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

According to the CDC, 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.

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. For instance, you can:

  • avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water
  • avoid touching your face, mouth, nose, or eyes if your hands aren’t clean
  • don’t share items like eating utensils and drinking glasses with others
  • avoid crowded areas, especially indoor spaces, where it’s difficult to keep your distance from other people
  • consider wearing a face mask if you’re in a public area and can’t keep a safe distance from others

If you’re currently ill with an RSV infection, you can take the following steps to keep from transmitting it to others:

  • avoid close contact with others, especially infants and older adults, until you’ve recovered
  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water, particularly after coughing or sneezing
  • cough and sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow instead of into your hands
  • disinfect high-touch surfaces or objects in your home, such as mobile devices, light switches, countertops, and doorknobs

A drug called palivizumab (Synagis) can be used to prevent severe RSV illness in infants and young children at a high risk of becoming seriously ill. Examples include infants born prematurely or children with heart or lung disease.

Is there a vaccine for RSV?

There’s currently no vaccine available for RSV. However, researchers have been hard at work to develop one. For example, companies like Pfizer, Moderna, GSK, and Janssen all have potential RSV vaccines in clinical trials.

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 cases, an RSV infection can cause serious complications like bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Seek immediate medical care if you or your child is experiencing:

RSV is a contagious virus. Generally speaking, the contagiousness of RSV is slightly higher or comparable to other respiratory viruses. One person 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 people 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.