SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of respiratory infections.
- While it affects people of all ages, infants and young children are most frequently affected.
- It occurs more frequently in autumn and winter.
- Most people have mild to moderate illness that self-resolves.
- Infants and people with pre-existing heart or lung problems or a weakened immune system have a higher risk of serious illness.
- It can spread from person-to-person so good hand washing, respiratory hygiene and cleaning practices are important in preventing RSV.
- There is currently no vaccine available, and treatment is mainly supportive.
- Call an ambulance or go to your nearest hospital emergency department if your child is turning blue, having trouble breathing, or is breathing very quickly.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a virus that can cause respiratory infections that affect the airways and lungs.
It affects people of all ages but especially infants and young children. Most young children have been infected with RSV at some stage by the age of 2 years. It is usually seasonal, occurring more frequently in autumn and winter.
- (infection of the small airways in the lungs)
- (infection of the lungs)
- (infection of the voice box and wind pipe).
Symptoms of RSV
Symptoms usually occur within 5 days but can occur as soon as one day or up to 10 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms usually last for 1 to 2 weeks.
Most people get mild to moderate illness that self-resolves. Symptoms are similar to a common cold and can include:
Symptoms and signs of serious respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia and croup can include:
- looking or feeling very unwell
- wheezing or difficulty breathing including rapid, shallow or irregular breathing
- blue discolouration or paleness of the skin
- looking or feeling very tired or irritable
- eating or drinking less than their usual amount
- persistent or high fevers
- worsening cough or mucous producing cough.
Seek medical care if symptoms do not resolve, symptoms worsen, or if there are symptoms and signs of serious respiratory infections.
Call an ambulance or go to your nearest hospital emergency department if your child is turning blue, having trouble breathing, or is breathing very quickly.
Spread of RSV
A person with RSV is infectious from just before the onset of illness until usually 8 days after symptoms begin, but this may be longer in people with ongoing symptoms or serious illness.
RSV can spread easily from person-to-person through:
- respiratory droplets, such as from coughing or sneezing
- touching objects and surfaces contaminated with respiratory droplets.
The virus can survive on objects and surfaces for several hours so good cleaning, hand washing, and respiratory hygiene practices are important in preventing spread.
People who have previously had RSV are still susceptible to repeat infections.
Infants, young children, older people and people with a pre-existing heart or lung problem or a weakened immune system are most at-risk of serious illness from RSV.
Prevention of RSV
Good cleaning, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene practices are important in preventing the spread of RSV, especially in people with symptoms:
- Stay home if unwell.
- Cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, ideally using a disposable tissue.
- Regularly wash hands with warm water and soap or use hand sanitiser.
- Regularly clean surfaces and objects such as toys that may be contaminated using a household detergent.
- Avoid sharing eating or drinking utensils.
- Avoid contact with high-risk groups when unwell, such as infants, young children, older people and people with a pre-existing heart or lung problem or a weakened immune system.
- Wear a mask in crowded places or if you are visiting places with high-risk groups such as hospitals or aged case facilities.
- Do not smoke and avoid exposure to tobacco and other smoke as these irritate the airways and lungs.
Diagnosis of RSV
RSV infections are usually diagnosed from symptoms by the doctor. The virus can be identified on a nose or throat swab through a PCR test.
Treatment of RSV
Treatment of RSV is mainly supportive through:
- drinking plenty of fluids
RSV is a viral infection so antibiotics are not effective.
Some people, especially high-risk groups, may require additional treatment from their GP or hospital admission.