RSV mostly affects young children (and can cause a chest infection called bronchiolitis) but adults can also get it. Although RSV symptoms are usually mild, some children and adults get very sick and need hospital treatment. There is no vaccine for RSV.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a virus that causes respiratory infections. Infections usually peak in late autumn or winter in NSW.
RSV can occur in children and adults. It can cause a cold with runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, fever and headache and also cough, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Almost all children will have been infected by the age of 3 years. Recovery from RSV gives some immunity against getting infected again but is not long-lasting.
For most people, RSV infection causes a mild respiratory illness. Symptoms usually begin around 5 days after exposure to the virus and can get worse over the first 3 to 4 days of the illness before an improvement. Symptoms can include:
RSV can also cause wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Babies under one year of age are more likely to develop breathing problems such as
pneumonia. They can be unsettled and have difficulty feeding.
Young children may develop wheeze and difficulty breathing.
Older children and adults may also have breathing problems, especially if they have chronic heart, lung or immune problems. Some babies, children and older adults may need admission to hospital to help their breathing or hydration.
Monitoring RSV symptoms below for symptom management in children and adults.
RSV is highly infectious. It can be spread through
A person is usually infectious for 3 - 8 days after symptoms begin but this may be longer in someone who has a weakened immune system.
RSV can affect anyone but usually causes a mild infection.
Some babies need admission to hospital to help their breathing and hydration, especially if they have lung, heart or immune problems or were born prematurely.
Children with viral wheeze or asthma may have symptoms triggered by RSV.
Older adults, especially those with chronic heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems may also become unwell with RSV.
There are currently no vaccines available for RSV.
The best way to help stop the virus spreading is for everyone to always practice good hygiene, especially if you have flu-like symptoms:
The virus can survive on surfaces or objects for about 4 to 7 hours. It is therefore important to:
Residential aged care facilities should:
Most children with coughs, colds and breathing problems can be diagnosed by their doctor. The virus can be identified by a PCR test (nose or throat swab).
Some pathology providers test for multiple viruses and may send you test results for RSV, influenza and COVID-19 at the same time.
Most people's immune system will fight off the infection. Most symptoms are mild and can be managed with:
Continue to take any medications you have been prescribed as usual. If you are unsure about continuing to take your current medication or treatment, or have any concerns about your health, call your doctor.
Sometimes both children and older adults may need to be hospitalised and treated with intravenous fluids and extra oxygen.
Antibiotics will not help the infection unless there is a secondary bacterial infection.
RSV can cause a chest infection called bronchiolitis. Babies with bronchiolitis can usually be managed at home. Visit the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website for bronchiolitis information and resources including videos with a health expert.
Call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for free 24 hour health advice or make an appointment for your baby to see a GP if:
RSV is became a notifiable disease from 1 September 2022. Trends in reports from selected laboratories are monitored each winter and reported in NSW Health Influenza Surveillance Reports along with surveillance data on presentations of bronchiolitis to emergency departments.
If you or your child has symptoms of RSV and you are concerned, speak to your doctor. They know you and your child best.
You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for free 24 hour health advice or speak to your local pharmacist.