What is RSV?

Jun 14 2023

What is RSV?

As the temperature drops, cases of sniffles tend to increase. In addition to the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is another respiratory infection that our community should be aware of.

RSV is a contagious virus that leads to infections of the respiratory tract and lungs. Typically, the infections reach their peak during the colder months of late autumn and winter in Australia, similar to many other viruses. Worldwide, the virus is accountable for over 100,000 deaths and 3.6 million hospitalisations of children annually.


What are the symptoms?

A runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, and headache are some of the common symptoms of RSV. Sometimes those with the virus can also experience ear infections. Difficulties with breathing and wheezing can be experienced in severe cases in younger children and older adults. Symptoms usually begin around five days after exposure to the virus.

How is it spread?

Like many other respiratory viruses, it is spread through the air. This occurs when someone infected coughs or sneezes, releasing droplets containing the virus. Additionally, it can be spread by touching surfaces contaminated by droplets from an infected person.

Who is at risk?

RSV can affect anyone; however, most cases are mild.

Babies and young children are at risk of breathing complications. This is especially true for those with a weakened immune system. RSV can cause bronchiolitis in babies and young children. This chest infection may require hospital treatment with extra oxygen.

Older adults are at risk of more severe symptoms of RSV, particularly those with chronic disease or a weakened immune system. RSV can cause complications such as pneumonia.

How can we prevent RSV?

As with many respiratory viruses, practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent RSV from spreading. A person is usually infectious for 3-8 days after symptoms begin. Good hygiene can be practiced by:

  • Staying at home while symptomatic
  • Covering nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • It is important to wear a mask in crowded or high-risk places.
  • Avoiding vulnerable populations at risk of more severe symptoms and complications like babies, young children, and older adults.
  • Wash hands with soap and use sanitiser.
  • Clean surfaces and items that may have been contaminated by an infectious person.

Is there a vaccine available?

No, there are currently no vaccines available for RSV.

How is RSV treated?

Most people with RSV improve within a few days to a week. Basic symptom management can help with this, such as pain relief and fever management. Rest and keeping hydrated are also important.

In severe cases, hospital admission and treatment with oxygen and intravenous fluid may be necessary.