What is the role of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the etiology of viral pneumonia?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021
  • Author: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: John J Oppenheimer, MD  more...
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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most frequent cause of lower respiratory tract infection among infants and children and the second most common viral cause of pneumonia in adults. It is a medium-sized virus of the Paramyxoviridae family that consists of only 1 serotype. Structurally, RSV has 10 unique viral polypeptides, 4 of which are associated with virus envelope, and 2 of these (F and G) are important for infectivity and pathogenicity. Classic RSV infection causes syncytia formation in cell culture, giving the virus its name.

RSV is highly contagious, spreading via droplet and fomite exposure. Most children are infected before age 5 years—the infection rate during an epidemic approaches 100% in certain settings such as daycare centers—but the resulting immunity is incomplete. Reinfection in older children and young adults is common but mild. However, the likelihood of more severe disease and pneumonia increases with advancing age.

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