Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus which commonly causes respiratory infections in young children, but it can affect people of all ages.
Most of the time, RSV causes a mild illness with common cold-like symptoms, but sometimes RSV can cause pneumonia, trigger asthma, and in very young children cause bronchiolitis. RSV can also make older people severely unwell. Most children by the age of two are likely to have had RSV, but you can catch it many times in your life.
There is no specific medicine for most RSV infections – like other common cold and flu viruses, the body’s immune system will fight off the infection over a week or two.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
RSV usually has very mild symptoms, such as:
- Runny nose
Signs and symptoms of more severe illness include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Worsening cough and/or coughing up mucus
- Refusal to feed or drink water(in children and babies)
If you aren't sure about your symptoms, or your child’s symptoms, it is best to have them checked by a doctor.
How does RSV spread?
RSV is spread between people by droplets from sneezes and coughing. The virus can survive for a few hours on surfaces, so spread could also occur from touching a contaminated surface or person, and then touching your face.
People may be infectious for up to 8 days after their symptoms started.
Can I tell RSV apart from COVID-19?
No – RSV and COVID-19 have many similar symptoms, and both can cause mild to severe illnesses. It is very important to get tested for COVID-19, even if you believe you might have RSV or another virus.
State-run PCR testing clinics will test you for COVID-19, Influenza (flu) and RSV at the same time.
Treatment for RSV
While there is no antiviral medication for RSV, children may need medical treatment for the management of severe infections. Less commonly, RSV can cause pneumonia in adults. Speak to your usual GP or health care provider if you test positive to RSV and are concerned about your symptoms. If you don't have a regular GP, contact Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 or an after hours doctor for advice.
Most people can look after themselves at home and will recover in a week or two. You can manage your symptoms by:
- Staying home and resting.
- Taking over-the-counter medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have a fever, headache or muscle aches. Carefully follow the instructions on how much paracetamol or ibuprofen to take.
- Drinking lots of water. You can also use hydration solutions to help stay hydrated.
- Seeing your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse. Let them know you have respiratory symptoms.
Care for eligible people who have RSV may be available through [email protected]
How to prevent the spread of RSV
Maintaining the COVID safe behaviours we've learned since 2020 will help stop the spread of other respiratory illnesses including RSV and the flu.
Stay home - the best way to stop viruses from spreading is to stay at home. This means not going to childcare or day-care, school, work, or social and sporting events until symptoms have resolved.
Maintain 1.5m physical distancing where possible.
Hand hygiene - use soap and warm water or alcohol-based hand rub to prevent the spread of this virus. Clean hands regularly, particularly before eating, after touching surfaces or objects that may be contaminated and after coughing, sneezing or handling tissues.
Cover your coughs and sneezes - Sneeze or cough into tissues, or your elbow, and clean your hands afterwards. This helps stop spread to other people.
Cleaning of items and other surfaces - ensure frequently touched surfaces like door handles, benches and toys are thoroughly and regularly cleaned to stop the spread of illness in a facility or at home. Clean first with detergent to remove dirt and most of the germs, then use a disinfectant such as bleach. Check the product label first, but household-strength liquid bleach (usually sold around 5% strength sodium hypochlorite) should be diluted - one part bleach for every nine parts water. Leave the bleach on the surface for at least 10 minutes to kill the virus, then it can be wiped off with a damp cloth.
More information about RSV is available on the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne website
If you have a specific query about RSV, you can call the Communicable Diseases Prevention Unit via the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.