The A-B-Cs of R-S-V: The top three things you need to know about this potentially dangerous virus

By Regence
September 27, 2023
sick kid with dad
RSV—or Respiratory Syncytial Virus—is very common and is spread easily from person to person. It usually causes mild cold-like symptoms. Anyone can spread RSV, and virtually all children are exposed to it by age 2—most without serious symptoms.
RSV can be dangerous for infants, certain young children and some adults, including those with certain underlying medical conditions or a weakened immune system. The virus settles in the lower lungs and can lead to bronchiolitis (inflammation in the lungs) and pneumonia. It can sometimes lead to hospitalization and death.

Here are the three most important things you need to know to lower the risk of RSV for yourself, your family and others around you.

A. Know your risk: Infants born prematurely and those up to six months, as well as young children with a chronic lung or heart disease or a weakened immune system, are most susceptible to severe infection. An estimated 58,000 to 80,000 children age 5 and younger are hospitalized with RSV in a normal year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection include older people and adults with chronic heart or lung disease, weakened immune systems and certain other underlying medical conditions. Between 60,000 and 160,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized each year and 6,000 to 10,000 die in a normal year because of RSV infection.
RSV can make breathing difficult. Those infected may not get enough oxygen. Some adults show no symptoms, but runny nose, decrease in appetite, cough that may progress to wheezing and difficulty breathing can occur with infections among all ages. Infants may only show symptoms of irritability, decreased activity and appetite, and apnea (pause in breathing for more than 10 seconds). Fever may or may not be present.
B. Know how to prevent the spread: Because RSV can be spread by anyone, take precautions around high-risk groups and consider getting vaccinated. With RSV infections rising and expected winter waves of COVID-19 and flu, prevention can lower the burden on local hospitals and help them keep up with the need.
New RSV vaccines have recently become available, one for adults 60 and older, and one for pregnant women which also passes immunity to the unborn child. There’s also an RSV preventive antibody shot available that can help prevent severe RSV disease in infants and young children. Talk to your provider to determine what vaccine or antibody shot might be right for your situation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges many of the same preventive measures for RSV as with COVID-19: 
  • Frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact—kissing, sharing cups or eating utensils—with sick people who have cold-like symptoms.
  • Cover coughs (mouth) and sneezes (nose) with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that people frequently touch, such as toys, doorknobs and mobile devices. 
  • Stay home from work, school, daycare and public areas when sick. 
  • Wear a mask, social distance and limit holiday gathering size.

C. Know your care & treatment options and make a plan: If you or your loved one is in a high-risk group and experiencing RSV symptoms, talk with your doctor. Most Regence health plans cover telehealth care so members can schedule a virtual appointment with a doctor to prevent spreading the virus further. Ask your doctor about getting a prescription for Olseltamivir (Tamiflu), which is used to treat flu symptoms. 

When to go to the ER: Symptoms of oxygen deprivation in infants include the inside of their mouth being blue or they appear to be trying to use their stomach, rib or neck muscles to breathe. Emergency symptoms for adults include shortness of breath, high fever, bluish tint to the skin, wheezing and worsening cough. If you notice any of these symptoms, go to the nearest hospital emergency room (ER) or urgent care clinic. If you’re not sure, you can contact a virtual provider who can prescribe medications or direct you to the right care.

We’re here to help

The best time to think about how to access and provide care for others who become sick is when you’re healthy. Now is also a good time to consider getting vaccinated. Regence members can sign in to their account on or call the customer service number on the back of their member ID card to learn about all of their care options.