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RSV Test

Detect respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) early and protect vulnerable individuals from severe respiratory illness, especially infants and older adults.

Collection method

Typically blood (venipuncture)

Test preparation



Ages 18+ only; Could vary by provider

Turnaround time

Typically 48-72 hours

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RSV testing

You’ve likely heard a lot about RSV after recent surges across the United States. For those with young children, this is concerning. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an infection that affects the respiratory tract. According to the CDC, cases tend to trend upward during the winter months when most respiratory viruses increase. Because there are usually many respiratory viruses circulating at once, it is hard to distinguish one from another. Fortunately, there are accurate testing options that help. Here’s what you should know about when to get tested or have your child tested for RSV.

What is RSV testing?

There are different types of RSV tests available that detect the RSV virus. The most commonly used test according to Medline Plus is the rapid RSV antigen test. This test uses a fluid sample collected from the nose to screen for antigens (proteins) from the RSV virus. Similar to other respiratory illnesses, the body will produce antigens as an immune response when infected. The rapid antigen tests usually provide results quickly—usually within an hour or less, according to the CDC.

The second type of RSV test is the molecular test, otherwise known as a polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. You've probably heard of PCR tests for COVID-19 testing. A PCR test screens for any genetic material from the virus that may be present in the body. Medline Plus notes that PCR tests are a more accurate option when compared to antigen tests because PCR tests can detect smaller amounts of virus present in the body.

According to the CDC, the RT-PCR tests are preferred for people like young children and the elderly, who tend to have less virus present in their nasal cavities. PCR tests usually yield results within about 24 hours. They take longer than antigen testing because the samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis. Some healthcare providers will run both tests for added accuracy.

How is RSV testing done

For any RSV test, a sample of respiratory secretions is needed. This includes a mucus or nasal swab that is collected from the patient's nose or throat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Who should get an RSV test and when?

You should get an RSV test if you believe that you have been exposed to RSV and are showing symptoms. Although you may not know if you have been exposed, If you are experiencing symptoms, it is best to talk with your healthcare provider to determine whether testing for RSV is appropriate, according to the CDC. Because young children and the elderly are at a higher risk of experiencing a severe case of RSV, a healthcare practitioner may recommend more diligent screenings, testing, and precautions.

Who is most at risk for complications from RSV?

Those who are at the greatest risk of complications from RSV, according to the CDC include:

  • The elderly
  • Those with a weakened immune system
  • Infants and children under the age of five
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with chronic illnesses (like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease)
  • Individuals who are already sick or hospitalized with another illness

Like other respiratory viruses, the CDC notes that RSV has the potential to cause serious complications like pneumonia or bronchiolitis., Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can have serious consequences if not properly diagnosed and treated.

Bronchiolitis is an inflammation of the small airways in infants and young children. Both conditions can cause serious complications if left untreated, notes the CDC. For this reason, it’s important to take precautions against the development of RSV if possible. Though there is a vaccine in development, there is not one approved and available yet. So avoiding large, crowded areas during RSV season is the best precaution for people who are at higher risk of complications.

How to get an RSV test

RSV tests are available throughout the country; however, access will vary depending on your location, and if cases are particularly high there may be a shortage of tests available. If you are interested in being tested for RSV, start by reaching out to a healthcare provider who can order the test or guide you to a testing location.

Can I get an RSV test at home?

At-home RSV tests are becoming more widely available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instructions are included in these tests for how to perform them. Once the test is completed at home, you mail the sample to the laboratory for testing. It is best to do this on a weekday, as the sample must be shipped on the same day that you collect it. These samples are typically shipped via FedEx (for faster delivery), and results become available via a Labcorp portal around one to two days after your specimen arrives at the lab.

Cost of RSV testing

The cost of RSV tests may not be covered by insurance, and the price will usually depend on the brand and type of test. Most RSV tests are combined with tests for other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza and COVID-19. The cost of these tests averages anywhere $623 to $832 per test, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This rate will vary depending on the type of test and your insurance coverage. Check with your local pharmacy and/or healthcare provider about the cost of testing in your area.

What to expect during an RSV test

If you haven’t been tested for RSV before, it is helpful to understand the process. First, know that you don’t need to take any steps or make considerations before going for or taking a test, notes the CDC.

What happens during an RSV test?

During the test, a respiratory sample is needed. This is typically easily obtained with a sample of nasal secretions. Most commonly, the RSV test uses a swab of the nasal cavity to obtain a sample of secretions, notes the FDA. Alternatively, a sample can be obtained from the nasal cavity through the wash and aspirate technique, which includes a saline solution that is used to flush the nasal cavity, followed by a healthcare provider suctioning out the saline solution using gentle suction methods. This second way is the most common way to collect a sample for an RSV test in infants and young children.

While blood tests are not typically used to diagnose a current RSV infection, a blood test can show a recent infection.

According to the FDA, many people report feeling a gag and/or a tickling sensation during an RSV test because of the sensitivity of the nasal cavity. These sensations are usually brief and stop as soon as the nasal swab is over.

Testing positive for RSV

While most people recover from RSV within a week or two according to the CDC, you should still take precautions to avoid getting other people sick.

If you test positive for RSV (or if you are experiencing symptoms after a known exposure), follow the CDC guidelines for safely isolating yourself until you recover.

The CDC's current guidelines recommend that you:

  • Isolate and take precautions to prevent spreading the sickness to others.
  • Wear a facemask if needing to go into public while sick.
  • Monitor your symptoms and seek medical care, if needed.
  • Manage fever and pain with over-the-counter medications.
  • Up your fluid intake to prevent dehydration.
  • Consult your healthcare provider for guidance on how to help a sick child.
  • Wash your hands often while sick and while recovering.

More about RSV

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe illness. RSV can become particularly severe in young children and older adults, according to the CDC.

How does RSV spread?

RSV spreads from person to person through respiratory secretions, such as droplets from coughing or sneezing, according to the CDC. The virus can also survive on surfaces for several hours, making it possible to contract the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.

RSV is highly contagious and can spread easily in settings where people are in close contact, such as daycare centers, schools, and nursing homes according to the AAP. The virus can also spread rapidly through families.

RSV symptoms to watch out for

The common symptoms of RSV, according to the CDC are:

  • Fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing more than usual
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing or breathing very quickly
  • Symptoms in infants also include: crankiness/crying, irritability, less movement, lack of appetite, pauses or changes in breathing (this indicates a serious case)

For many older children and adults, the CDC notes that RSV symptoms are similar to the common cold, and they recover at home without ever getting tested. This makes it difficult for parents of younger children to know whether their child has been exposed.

How long does RSV last?

The duration of RSV illness can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the age and health of the affected person, according to the CDC. Generally, RSV symptoms last for 1-2 weeks in healthy adults and children. However, infants, young children, and older adults may experience more severe symptoms and a longer duration of illness, up to several weeks. In some cases, RSV can lead to complications such as pneumonia, bronchiolitis, or respiratory failure, which can prolong the illness.

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Find answers to the most commonly asked questions about lab tests.

According to the CDC, RSV circulates all year but peak RSV season usually happens in the cold-weathered months, from October through March in the United States. RSV season can vary by geographical location, and sometimes start earlier or extend later into spring.
RSV is a very common respiratory virus, and most children will have been infected with RSV by their second birthday. According to the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in children under one year of age in the United States.
There is currently a vaccine being developed and tested for RSV, according to recent publications from vaccine manufacturer Moderna. For now, there is an antibody treatment available for people who are at the highest risk for complications like prematurely-born infants. Additionally, there are steps you can take to help prevent you or your child from contracting RSV. Here are steps you should take, according to Mass General Children’s Hospital:Practice good hand hygiene by washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.Avoid close contact with sick people, especially if they have symptoms of respiratory illness.Cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, either by using a tissue or the elbow.Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs, and countertops.Keep infants and young children away from crowded places, especially during RSV season.If you or your child are at high risk of severe RSV infection, talk to your healthcare provider about preventive measures, such as monthly injections of antibody treatment during RSV season.
Yes, according to the CDC, children are more likely to get infected with RSV than adults. RSV is most common in infants and young children, and virtually all children will have been infected with RSV by their second birthday. According to the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year of age in the United States.
The RSV PCR tests are considered the most accurate method of diagnosing RSV infection, with a sensitivity of approximately 80-100% according to the CDC. The antigen tests are slightly less accurate, at around 70-90%.
Antigen tests can yield results within minutes, however, PCR tests must be analyzed in a lab, so it could take a day or more, according to the CDC.
No test is 100% accurate, according to the CDC, this includes RSV testing. The accuracy of an RSV test depends largely on the type and timing of the test. Antigen tests may be less accurate if performed too early, according to the CDC.
You or your child should get tested for RSV if you or your child have symptoms of respiratory illness—particularly if you or your child are at high risk of severe RSV infection. High-risk groups for RSV according to the CDC include:Infants under 6 months of ageAdults over 65 years of agePeople with underlying medical conditions such as lung disease or heart disease.
You should seek more serious medical attention for RSV if you or your child experience severe symptoms, particularly difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, bluish lips or face, or severe dehydration, notes the CDC, as symptoms may indicate a more severe RSV infection or complications such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

This publication is not intended to solicit the purchase of laboratory testing from any individual consumer.

Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD

Updated on Jan 25, 2023

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD

Dr. Rob Rohatsch currently serves as Chief Medical Officer for Solv Health. Dr. Rohatsch brings his extensive background in multi-site ambulatory medicine operations, on-demand healthcare, and consumerism to Solv, where he helps drive strategic initiatives in a cross functional executive role. He brings comprehensive healthcare expertise ranging from medical group operations to revenue cycle management and clinical expertise.

Dr. Rohatsch completed his military service in the US Air Force and earned his MD from Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Rohatsch served on the Yale School of Medicine faculty teaching at the medical school and is currently on faculty at the Haslam School of Business at the University of Tennessee teaching in the Executive MBA Program. He also serves on several boards and chairs The TJ Lobraico Foundation.

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