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What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

Respiratory syncytial virus or RSV is a common and contagious virus that affects people of all ages. Among children and infants, the infection is most common. For many adults and healthy children, RSV symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. However, in infants, and adults with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a very weak immune system, RSV can be severe.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

What Causes Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

RSV spreads easily through the air when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or blows their nose or through direct contact such as shaking hands.

Other ways through which you can get RSV include:

  • Touching, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is infected by the virus
  • Touching your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus, such as a toy or doorknob
  • Being in a crowded house or daycare centre where RSV spreads quickly. The virus can live on hands for half an hour or more. The virus can live for up to 5 hours on hard objects such as countertops, toys, and on used tissues.

What are the Symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

Symptoms vary and differ with age. Symptoms usually appear within 4 to 6 days after coming in contact with the virus. In older children, the symptoms observed are congestion or low-grade fever. The strongest symptoms are observed in infants under one year of age. Some of the other common symptoms for both children and adults include:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Fever

Some of the less common symptoms include:

  • Difficult breathing
  • Short or fast breathing
  • Irritability or trouble breathing in infants
  • Wheezing
  • Bluish skin colour

Usually, these symptoms are very rare and are only observed with more severe infections, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis. You should visit your doctor immediately if your child is showing any of these symptoms,

How is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Diagnosed?

Your doctor diagnoses RSVon the basis of a physical examination which may include listening to the lungs with a stethoscope to check for wheezing or other abnormal sounds.

Your doctor may perform other tests to rule out other conditions including:

  • Blood tests to look for bacteria, viruses, and other germs
  • Chest X-rays to look for any signs of lung inflammation
  • Nasal swabs or secretions scraped from inside the mouth to look for any signs of the virus

Sometimes, tests such as pulse oximetry are also performed to detect lower than normal levels of oxygen in the blood.

What are the Treatments for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

Treatment mainly involves self-care measures at home to make your child more comfortable which includes:

  • Over-the-counter medication to reduce fever
  • Nasal saline drops and suctioning to clear a stuffy nose
  • Antibiotics to treat bacterial complications, such as bacterial pneumonia
  • Offering plenty of fluids and looking for signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, sunken eyes, little or no urine output, and extreme sleepiness or fussiness

Severe infections may require hospitalization and treatment may include:

  • Humidified oxygen
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Breathing machine
  • Antiviral medications to open their airways

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