How long does RSV last? Parents have lots of questions about the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common viral infection that is typically associated with mild cold-like symptoms. Cases of RSV are usually highest during fall, winter and spring.
Symptoms associated with RSV infection include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, fever, headache, body aches, fatigue, and sometimes even vomiting or diarrhea. While most children get over the virus within two weeks, adults usually recover from the illness after three to four days. And the cough may last for several weeks. But it can affect small children and the elderly as seriously as COVID-19.
RSV is highly contagious. It is airborne and spreads through virus droplets that enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Most people get RSV through direct contact with someone who has RSV, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus.
If someone who has RSV coughs or sneezes into their hand, they can spread the virus to other people nearby. RSV also spreads to children through contact with contaminated toys, faucets, doorknobs, drinking fountains, or other surfaces. This means that you should focus on good prevention measures like staying away from sick people and washing your hands frequently.
How Long Is RSV Contagious?
The incubation period after contact is 2-8 days with day four being the most common day symptoms begin. While we may be contagious 12 hours before symptoms appear, we are considered contagious at the beginning of any cold-like symptoms.
If your family is experiencing RSV, the contagious period is 3 to 8 days. Some very young infants who have less immune strength can shed the virus for as long as a month, but this is not common.
What You Can Do To Help Your Child Feel Better
Although there is no cure for RSV, there are lots of things you can do to help your child feel better while trying to recover.
First, it’s best to avoid foods that can cause congestion such as dairy products and corn syrup.
And, because RSV is usually accompanied by lots of mucus, anything you can do to help your child breathe easier will make them more comfortable such as:
- Using a saline nasal spray with gentle suctioning to make breathing easier - especially before breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
- Drinking warm fluids every 1-3 hours to stay hydrated, loosen mucus, and unblock the upper airway. Bone broth is an excellent choice for people of all ages.
A cool-mist humidifier may reduce coughing and help them breathe easier by keeping their respiratory tract moist.
And body aches and fever can be reduced by using acetaminophen.
You can also find more helpful tips here.
When Can My Child Return to Daycare or School After Having RSV?
It is okay for your child to return to school, daycare, and playgroups after eight days or even sooner if all symptoms have resolved - no fever for at least 24 hours, mild and infrequent coughing - and your child is eating and drinking well.
About Dr. Nicole Craven
Dr. Nicole Craven is an integrative medicine pediatrician and a global holistic health educator treating patients at Robinhood Integrative Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has more than 18 years of experience helping patients achieve their best health through nourishment for improved cellular function, medical-grade supplementation, herbal medicine, and gut-immune-brain health.
Dr. Nicole received her MD from Tulane University and completed her pediatric residency at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. Following her residency, she completed Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship where she “became aware of the power of holistic medicine to find and treat the root cause of dysfunction, restore cellular function, and achieve wellness.” And she later became a certified health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York.
She likes to spend her free time with her pup Liam, family, and close friends cooking, creating, moving, and being outdoors.