RSV: Can You Get It More Than Once?

RSV: Can You Get It More Than Once?

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious virus that affects breathing passages and the lungs. Health experts state that most children contract the virus by the age of two, but any person can get infected at any age. The symptoms are very similar to those of the common cold and it’s possible to recover within a week or so. Those who are high risk may get very sick, developing pneumonia or bronchiolitis in some instances. 

In the late months of 2022, cases of RSV soared in the United States. The RSV isn’t new and cases tend to peak during fall and winter, although they can continue through spring. According to data, RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization among children younger than age one. Because of the increase in cases, especially across people of all ages, you may be wondering if, like COVID-19 or the flu, you can get RSV more than once. If you can, is it possible to get it twice in the same season? Read on to find out. 

Can You Get RSV More Than Once?

The body does not produce long-term immunity against RSV, which is why the virus is so common, and why you can get it more than once. Influenza, for example, and other similar viruses have different genetic strains that change from year to year. That makes reinfection more common, but that isn’t the case for RSV. There are different strains, but RSV is genetically stable, so to speak. 

It’s unclear to experts why immunity from RSV doesn’t last very long. A strong theory is that the virus may interfere with immune response, a process called immunomodulation. The first infection tends to provide a certain degree of immunity, but it is short-lived and partial. It is possible to contract the virus later in life, but it may not affect you the same way. A 2016 study found that 35% of children already had a second infection before their third birthday. 

How Soon After Having RSV Can You Get It Again?

Although you can get RSV twice in the same season, the chances of this happening are very low. A 2021 review of studies found that a person’s risk for contracting RSV again after initial infection is about 70% lower within the first six months. Other research indicates that the body develops an immune response to RSV within five to 10 days after infection. This persists in the blood for one to three months, however, some studies detected antibodies for at least one year after infection. Research from 2019 found that up to 36% of people may experience reinfection at least once each season. 

Are RSV Symptoms The Same During A Repeat Infection?

Due to lack of long-term immunity after infection, reinfection is frequent. Because you develop partial immunity, a second infection won’t affect you as much. RSV tends to cause an infection in the lower respiratory tract the first time you get it. The lower respiratory tract includes the windpipe, airways in the lungs, and the air sacs in the lungs. Studies indicate that about 40% of people who contract RSV for the first time develop bronchiolitis, inflammation of the bronchioles. Rarely do people develop pneumonia, but it can happen as a result of RSV infection. That said, each time you get reinfected with RSV, your risk of lower respiratory tract infection is much lower. You may still experience upper respiratory tract infections when you get RSV as an adult, with symptoms affecting your throat, sinuses, mouth, nose, and voice box. 

The Takeaway

After you get RSV, the body can develop an immune response, but you aren’t completely immune. More than one-third of people get a second infection by the age of three, but partial immunity still helps, reducing the severity of symptoms after reinfection. You’re more likely to experience cold-like symptoms the third or fourth time you contract RSV.



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