RSV - Respiratory Syncytial Virus

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

    Respiratory syncytial virus (known as RSV) is a common and highly infectious virus. Most children will get RSV at least once before they turn two. RSV infection is a common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small to medium sized airways of the lung). Symptoms of RSV bronchiolitis may last for up to 10 days. Most children will feel sickest three to six days after the first signs of

    Signs and symptoms

    The main signs and symptoms of RSV include:

    • runny nose
    • cough
    • fever
    • sore throat
    • headache

    Children’s symptoms often worsen in the first two to three days of sickness. They may also experience wheezing, difficulty breathing and dehydration.

    What causes RSV?

    RSV is a virus. The virus can cause inflammation and mucous to build up quickly in children’s airways which can make it hard to breathe and cause lung infections, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

    How is RSV diagnosed?

    A doctor can diagnose bronchiolitis by examining your child. Tests like a nasal swab may be done to confirm if the bronchiolitis is caused by RSV, but this is not usually required, particularly when there are high rates of RSV in the community. Please notify your school nurse if your child tests positive.


    Most cases of RSV are mild and can be treated at home with rest. Very young children, children with pre-existing lung diseases or children with severe bronchiolitis may need to go to hospital to get help with their breathing or feeding.

    Care at home

    • Give your child small amounts of their usual fluids to drink regularly – this may help to relieve the build-up of mucous (congestion) and prevent dehydration.

    • Work with your health care provider to determine the proper over the counter medication if your child is uncomfortable with a fever (in doses recommended on the bottle).

    • Keep your child at home until their symptoms have stopped.

    • Wash hands regularly – RSV can easily spread from person to person, regular hand-washing for 20 seconds with soap and water is the best way to stop it spreading to others.

    When should I see a doctor?

    Call 911 immediately if your child:

    • appears very unwell and lethargic,
    • is having severe difficulty breathing,
    • is making a ‘grunting’ noise,
    • has blue-coloured lips or skin.

    See your local doctor or visit your nearest hospital emergency department if you are concerned about your child’s breathing or feeding.

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