Complications of RSV infection

Most frequent complications

Lower respiratory system infections, which affect the bronchial tubes and lungs, sometimes follow infection with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The most common types of these infections include:

  • Bronchiolitis , which is an inflammation of the small air passages (bronchioles) that usually affects children younger than 2. It is the leading cause of serious lower respiratory illness in infants.
  • Pneumonia , which can make it hard to breathe and to get enough oxygen into the bloodstream because of inflammation in the lungs.

Other complications

Other health problems can also develop as a complication of RSV infection. These include:

  • Ear infections (otitis media), because RSV commonly infects the middle ear.1
  • Asthma that gets worse when a child has an RSV infection.1
  • Dehydration , which can affect anyone who is too ill to absorb enough liquids.
  • Collapsed lung (atelectasis), a rare condition that can arise from blocked small air passages in the lung.
  • Sudden heart failure, which can result from troubled breathing. This complication is most common in older adults who have heart problems or other lung problems.


  1. Levin MJ, Weinberg A (2007). Respiratory syncytial virus disease section of Viral infections. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment, 18th ed., chap. 36, pp. 1106–1108. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated: July 16, 2008

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