RSV can be serious for adults over age 60

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is not just a concern for babies; it is highly contagious and can also cause severe illness in adults over age 60.

For adults with pre-existing conditions, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), congestive heart failure, or even asthma, the risk of severe illness increases.

Adults aged 65+ have 10x the risk of being hospitalized due to RSV vs. adults aged 45–64.

Older adults interacting

Older adults interacting

What RSV looks like in adults

RSV may seem like just a cold, with symptoms such as:

But if RSV progresses and becomes a severe infection, it can cause pneumonia (an infection in one or both of your lungs) or bronchiolitis (swelling of the respiratory tract). If your RSV infection is becoming more serious, you may see symptoms such as:

You are not overreacting: If you are having trouble breathing or your skin is turning bluish or purplish, seek immediate medical attention.

Is it RSV or something else?

  1. • Rarely
  2. •• Sometimes
  3. ••• Often
Symptom RSV Flu COVID-19
Cough ••• ••• •••
Difficulty breathing •• •••
Wheezing •••
Runny or stuffy nose ••• •• ••
Fatigue ••• •••
Fever •• ••• ••
Headaches •• ••• •••
Muscle pain or body aches ••• ••
New loss of taste or smell* ••
Sneezing •• •• ••
Sore throat •• •••
Vomiting or diarrhea •• ••

*A stuffy nose may temporarily decrease the ability to taste or smell, but it does not cause a sudden, complete loss of these senses.

Fewer symptoms doesn't mean fewer risks.

RSV usually lasts for 1–2 weeks. There is no cure or specific treatment for RSV.
Although they share similar symptoms, RSV, the flu, and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses and need to be managed differently.

What to do if you think you have RSV

In the case of uncomplicated RSV, you will likely be able to manage your symptoms at home.

  • Manage fever and relieve congestion: You can take your usual measures to relieve your fever and/or congestion.
  • Stay hydrated: Ensure you are drinking enough water to stay hydrated.
  • Help protect others: An uncomplicated RSV infection should clear up in 1–2 weeks. You can help protect others from contracting RSV by staying home, limiting your contact, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, and washing your hands frequently.

Older adults interacting

Older adults interacting

When to see a doctor

You are not overreacting: If your symptoms become more severe—you have trouble breathing, become dehydrated, or notice your skin turning a bluish colour—you should seek immediate medical attention.

If you have complications that require going to the hospital, you will most likely be given supportive care, such as:

  • IV fluids (in your vein) to help ensure you are hydrated
  • Oxygen
  • Ventilators to help you breathe
  • Breathing treatments

RSV can lead to other complications

Most adults who get RSV recover completely. But, in some cases, RSV can cause damage to the lungs, airways, or heart that lasts even after other signs and symptoms go away. In some cases, this damage can be permanent.

RSV infection can also lead to an increased risk for certain health conditions, including chronic lung conditions. In people already living with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), for example, RSV can cause the condition to become permanently worse.

RSV can also have an effect on your heart and increase your risk of heart disease.

How to help protect yourself from RSV

RSV season in Canada usually begins in the fall and lasts until early spring. RSV is generally contagious for at least 3–8 days, but people with weakened immune systems can spread the disease for up to 4 weeks.

Here are some precautions you can take to help protect yourself:

RSV can be a danger to others in your life. Find out more about how RSV can affect babies and how to help protect them.
RSV in babies
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More information

The Government of Canada provides an overview of RSV as part of its public health information.
See more
WebMD provides a clear overview of how RSV affects adults.
Visit WebMD
The Mayo Clinic also provides a detailed overview of RSV.
Visit the Mayo Clinic