Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is very common in young children and the majority will have had the infection by the age of two. For the majority of children, the illness is not serious and they recover quickly with adequate rest and plenty of fluids. 

Viruses are spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Tiny droplets of liquid can be breathed in directly from the air or picked up from a surface they have landed on, such as on toys or a table. RSV can survive on a surface for up to 24 hours.

Symptoms of RSV include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Scratchy throat
  • A high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)
  • Noisy breathing (wheezing)
  • Inflammation and mucous collection in the smallest airways in the lungs (Bronchiolitis)

It can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and RSV symptoms. If you are concerned your child may have COVID-19, contact 111 or your GP for advice.

Most cases of RSV are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks. You should treat the symptoms by:

  • Keeping your child upright when needed, this can alleviate breathing
  • Encouraging the drinking of plenty of fluids
  • Continuing to offer small frequent oral feeds if tolerated
  • Treating your child’s fever with medication, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, if it is bothering them
  • Not smoking in the home
  • Using saline (salt water) nasal drops for babies who are having trouble feeding/ breastfeeding; these are available from pharmacies without a prescription

It is important to note that antibiotics will not work in the treatment of RSV; they are only effective against bacterial infections.

Children may still get their routine vaccines, even with cold symptoms, a low-grade fever or mild illness; this will not affect how well the body responds to a vaccine. Those with moderate or serious illness may need to wait until they are better to get some vaccines; particularly if they have an underlying chronic illness or an already weakened immune system (e.g. on chemotherapy). If you are unsure, please seek advice from your child’s health care professional.

Contact your GP or call 111 if:

  • You are worried about your child.
  • Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last 2 or 3 feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
  • Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above

Dial 190 for an ambulance if:

  • Your child is having difficulty breathing.
  • Your child’s tongue or lips are blue.
  • There are long pauses in your child’s breathing.

Good respiratory and hand hygiene can reduce the spread of respiratory infections.

Parents are advised to carry tissues and use them to catch coughs or sneezes, bin the used tissues as soon as possible and wash your hands (with soap and warm water or hand sanitiser) to kill the germs.