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Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a respiratory infection in adults and children that comes from the same family as human parainfluenza, measles and mumps viruses.

RSV can be passed from person to person through coming into contact with droplets from the nose or throat of an infected individual. These droplets are dispersed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes; these can then be inhaled from others around them. Infected droplets will also land on surfaces and objects such as handles, switches or other shared equipment. When people touch these contaminated surfaces, then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes, they risk transferring the virus to themselves, which can lead to infection.

RSV occurs every year during the winter months when there is an increase in all respiratory infections. Although RSV infections are usually mild, and adults are rarely diagnosed, catching RSV can cause severe complications including bronchiolitis, pneumonia, hospitalisation and in some cases can be fatal, especially for those who are vulnerable. Those who are at a greater risk of developing health problems include:

  • children under one year old
  • children born with underlying chronic lung disease
  • older adults
  • older adults with a chronic disease


The symptoms of RSV in older children and adults are similar to that of a common cold. This includes a runny/blocked nose, sneezing, cough, fatigue and in some cases a fever.

Symptoms are similar for young children and babies, but they may also experience other symptoms such as:

  • bronchiolitis
  • croup (a barking cough due to the inflammation of the upper airways)
  • ear infections
  • babies may struggle to feed

How to treat RSV

At present there is no medication that can be prescribed to cure RSV. Instead, the aim is to support people and their children to relieve the symptoms.

Symptoms can be relieved by:

  • resting
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • taking regular pain relief such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or children’s paracetamol
  • keep children upright as much as possible when awake to help them breath


Good hygiene is important to prevent the spread of RSV, this includes:

  • washing hands often using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
  • avoiding touching the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • regularly cleaning surfaces and objects that could become contaminated using an anti-bacterial cleaner
  • using a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing of the tissue immediately afterwards
  • avoiding close contact with people, especially those who are vulnerable
  • avoid smoking around children with RSV
  • remaining away from others if you are unwell, until you are fully recovered.

Further information

Last updated 29 December 2023