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RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an enveloped RNA virus, in the same family as the human parainfluenza viruses and mumps and measles viruses. RSV is one of the common viruses that cause coughs and colds in winter.  We are predicting a rapid rise in the next few weeks and want you to be aware of what this is and what the symptoms

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that usually affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Most RSV infections are not serious in older children and adults, but babies and young children may be at risk of severe disease.


RSV is transmitted by large droplets and by secretions from contact with an infected person. The virus can survive on surfaces or objects for about 4 to 7 hours.

The incubation period – the delay between infection and the appearance of symptoms – is short at about 3 to 5 days.

When RSV circulates

In temperate climates such as the UK, RSV occurs regularly each year. Epidemics generally start in October and last for 4 to 5 months, peaking in December. The sharp winter peak varies little in timing or magnitude, in contrast to influenza virus infection which is much less predictable in its timing.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Cough and runny nose
  • Ear pain or drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Eye redness and irritation
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Fast breathing, trouble breathing, or wheezing
  • RSV infection can also cause lung infections.
  • Some babies and small children may have so much trouble breathing that they don’t eat well.

How is it diagnosed?

The clinician will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Samples of mucus from your child’s nose and throat may be tested for the virus. 

How is it treated?

Because RSV is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics will not help treat RSV.

Some babies may need extra oxygen and treatment at hospital. If your child is vomiting and unable to eat or drink, they may need IV fluids.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your clinician.

In addition:

  • Use a bulb syringe to help suck out mucus from your child’s nose. This will help your child breathe more easily. A bulb syringe is a small rubber suction tool that you can buy online or at the pharmacy. Follow the directions on the package. Your healthcare provider can also show you how this is done.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporisers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mould from growing in the water container.
  • Give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen for fever and pain relief. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. Read the label and give as directed. Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome. Read the label carefully and give your child the correct dose as directed. Do not give more doses than directed. To make sure you don’t give your child too much, check other medicines your child takes to see if they also contain paracetamol. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, your child should not take this medicine for more than 5 days.
  • Do not give cough medicines to children under the age of 4. If your child is between the ages of 4 and 6, ask your healthcare provider before giving cough medicine. For children over the age of 6, you can give cough medicines, but they have not been proven to be helpful. Honey has been shown to help coughs but should not be given to children under 1 year because of the risk of botulism.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is very harmful to children.

How can I help prevent RSV?

RSV is such a common virus that it’s almost impossible to keep your child from being exposed to it. One thing you can do is make sure that all surfaces are cleaned, and people wash their hands with soap and warm water before holding your child. Also, try to keep your baby away from people with cold symptoms.