RSV causes a mild infection that’s very similar to the common cold. Typically, colds and infections caused by RSV can be treated at home without medical intervention and resolve in about a week.

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that leads to a mild infection. It causes symptoms that are very similar to the common cold.

RSV lasts about as long as the common cold, and you can typically treat it at home with rest, just like a cold.

However, there are some differences. Several viruses can cause a cold, not only RSV. And not all symptoms of RSV and colds are the same.

RSV is a common virus that causes infections in humans. Most RSV infections are mild and cause symptoms similar to the common cold.

Typically, people have symptoms for about 1 week and can recover without medical treatment.

A cold is a mild and very common infection. Adults have about two to three colds each year. Children typically have colds more often.

You can treat most colds with rest and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. People typically start to feel better in less than a week.

Infections caused by RSV are more likely to cause a fever and wheezing.

RSV infections are also more likely to make it difficult for you to eat.

RSV and colds share common symptoms in adults, such as:

They also share common symptoms in infants, such as:

Most people who contract RSV or develop a cold do not need medical treatment. You can treat either infection at home.

Medical professionals typically recommend that people take steps such as:

  • taking OTC medications to manage symptoms
  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • using nose saline drops
  • gargling with warm salt water

If you have a humidifier at home, using it can also help relieve symptoms. Make sure your filter is clean before using it.

Anyone can get RSV or a cold at any time. They’re both very common in children and adults. In fact, most people contract RSV for the first time before their second birthday.

RSV and the viruses that cause the common cold spread throughout the year, but each has peak seasons.

RSV is more active in the fall and winter. Common cold viruses are more active in the spring and winter.

In addition to the season, some other factors make contracting RSV or developing a cold more likely. These include:

  • being an infant or very young child
  • being in your 70s or older
  • having a weakened immune system
  • living or working in a dorm, group home, assisted living facility, correctional facility, or another setting where multiple people share a common living space

RSV and cold infections are typically mild. Most people recover completely in under 2 weeks.

However, it’s possible for a cold and an RSV infection to progress and become a serious illness, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

For infections caused by RSV, serious illness is more of a risk for:

For infections caused by colds, serious infections are more of a risk for:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people with asthma
  • people with any respiratory condition

Below, we answer some common questions about RSV versus a cold.

Can I take antibiotics for RSV or a cold?

No. RSV is a virus and colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not treat viruses, they treat bacteria.

Is RSV contagious?

Yes. RSV can be transmitted from person to person easily.

How do I know if my RSV infection or cold has progressed to a serious infection?

Most people start to feel better in a few days. If you feel worse each day, it may be a sign your infection is progressing to a more serious illness.

Other signs your mild infection might have turned into something more serious include:

  • your symptoms last longer than 10 days
  • your symptoms go away and then come back
  • you have a fever for longer than 10 days

If this happens, make a doctor’s appointment.

RSV causes an infection that is very similar to the common cold. Both an RSV infection and the common cold cause mild symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, and congestion. Both typically last about a week.

You don’t usually need treatment for either condition. Oftentimes, it’s enough to rest at home with fluids and OTC medications.

However, infections caused by RSV and colds aren’t the same. Several viruses can lead to colds, and there are some symptoms, such as a fever, that are more common in RSV than in colds.

In either case, your symptoms should improve in just a few days. If you start to feel worse, make a medical appointment.