Which physical findings are characteristic of RSV pneumonia?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021
  • Author: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: John J Oppenheimer, MD  more...
  • Print

In healthy hosts, RSV causes upper respiratory tract illness, tracheal bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia. Upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as coryza and pharyngitis, precede lower respiratory tract involvement.

Patients with RSV pneumonia typically present with fever, nonproductive cough, otalgia, anorexia, and dyspnea. Wheezes, rales, and rhonchi are common physical findings.

Pneumonia and bronchiolitis often are difficult to differentiate, and both can be associated with wheezing, rales, and hypoxemia. Dyspnea and cough are seen in 60-80% of cases. Compared with influenza, RSV is more often associated with rhinorrhea, sputum production, and wheezing and less often associated with gastrointestinal complaints and fever. [1, 61]

Immunocompromised hosts may have a range of respiratory involvement. These patients develop fever, cough, rhinorrhea, sinus congestion, and respiratory difficulties; nearly half report wheezing. In these patients, the symptoms range from mild dyspnea to severe respiratory distress and respiratory failure.

While most patients with RSV infection, including infants, have only upper respiratory symptoms, as many as 25-40% develop bronchiolitis and/or pneumonia. Statistics demonstrate that as many as 20-25% of infants with pneumonia who require hospitalization are infected with RSV.

Lower respiratory disease in infants is preceded by a prodrome of rhinorrhea and, perhaps, poor appetite. Low-grade fever, cough, and wheezing usually occur. The chest examination reveals tachypnea, rales, and fine wheezes. Disease from RSV in young, healthy adults is usually mild, although one study of community-acquired pneumonia showed RSV to be the third most common pathogen, [61] after S pneumoniae and influenza viruses A and B.

During their first RSV infection, 25-40% of infants and young children have signs or symptoms of bronchiolitis of pneumonia, and 0.5-2% require hospitalization. Most pediatric patients hospitalized for RSV infection are younger than six months.

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!