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How Long Is RSV Contagious For?

Those exposed to respiratory syncytial virus can have some of the unpleasant symptoms too.

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According to the CDC, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, and the virus is typically not considered to be dangerous outside of infants and the elderly. Upper respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and fever, are typical after exposure to RSV. Fortunately, these signs and symptoms usually disappear within a few days to a couple of weeks without any treatment at all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that RSV can sometimes progress to more serious respiratory complications that do necessitate professional medical care. In particular, the virus can trigger bronchiolitis, an infection of the windpipe that ultimately results in respiratory distress. Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs themselves, is another possibility. If you have difficulty breathing or become dehydrated, you should see a doctor right away; you might need oxygen therapy or intubation during your brief hospital stay.

The New York State Department of Health states that the most common routes of transmission for RSV are through a person’s mucus-laden respiratory secretions, specifically through their mouth and throat. When a person sneezes or coughs, droplets of saliva and mucus leave the mouth and nose and travel through the air or land on surfaces outside of the body, where the virus can infect others. Airborne transmission occurs when infected surfaces are shared via breathing or touching. After contracting an infection, a person can spread it to others for some time.

The Length of Time Someone Can Spread RSV Varies from Person to Person.

According to UC Health, symptoms of RSV infection typically appear within a week. After that, they are considered “contagious,” or able to infect others, for another three to eight days at the earliest. However, RSV can spread to others as long as they remain symptomatic; this could mean that the virus could be contagious for up to a month in certain individuals, such as young children or those with compromised immune systems.

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Even if you come into close contact with someone who is actively contagious with RSV, you shouldn’t necessarily worry about catching it. Some precautions can be taken to reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus, as described by Yale Medicine. Before and after coming into contact with an infected person, you should always use soap and warm water to wash your hands. If a member of your household has been infected, you should also take extra care to regularly disinfect the surfaces in your home (especially the areas most frequently touched). If you really want to keep from getting sick, a mask is a good extra precaution to take. Palivizumab, a medication that prevents serious complications in the event of infection, is also available to those at high risk and is taken once monthly. Finally, if someone you care about has RSV, you should avoid kissing them or feeding them.

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