Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): Prevention and risks
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How RSV spreads
RSV is very contagious. It can spread from one person to another by:
- being in close contact when an infected individual coughs or sneezes and the respiratory particles enter your body through your nose, eyes or mouth
- touching a surface that has the virus on it, such as a door handle, toy or furniture, and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands
You can take some steps to help protect yourself and others from RSV:
- Stay at home when you're sick to avoid spreading the illness to others.
- Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, kissing and sharing utensils, with people who have cold-like symptoms.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm (not your hand).
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Improve indoor ventilation when possible, such as opening windows or doors.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, toys or furniture.
If you have cold-like symptoms, you should avoid coming into contact with people who are at a high risk of severe RSV infection.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent RSV infection. A medication (called palivizumab) is available to prevent severe RSV illness in certain infants and children who are at high risk. This drug can't treat people who already have symptoms of RSV.
The drug is given by injection into the muscle every month during the peak RSV season, which is late fall to spring.
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Risks of getting RSV
RSV is a seasonal viral infection that circulates from the fall to spring months. In healthy children and adults, RSV symptoms are similar to those of the common cold.
Although most children experience RSV by the time they are 2 years old, repeat infections can occur at any age. Repeat infections of RSV are generally less severe.
Who is most at risk of severe RSV infection
Some populations are at a higher risk of severe RSV infections, such as:
- especially premature infants or infants 6 months or younger
- children with chronic lung disease
- children with heart disease present from birth (congenital heart disease)
- children or adults with weakened immune systems
- children with neuromuscular disorders
- adults with heart or lung disease
- older adults
- especially adults over the age of 65
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Recommendations for travellers
RSV is common around the world.
Practise good hand hygiene and respiratory practices, such as washing your hands and coughing or sneezing into your arm, to keep from getting sick.
If you're planning to travel, consult the:
- Government of Canada's travel health notices
- Government of Canada's travel advice and advisories by destination
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