What is Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

What is Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?

It’s a long name for an infection that most people have had at some time in their lives.

Respiratory syncytial Virus (RSV) causes infections of the respiratory tract (airway and lungs). (1) RSV is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. (2) By the age of two most babies have had this infection.

Can RSV be dangerous?

In adults and older children the virus causes mild cold-like symptoms.  But in premature babies and kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart, or immune system, RSV infections can lead to other more serious illnesses.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms vary and differ with the age of the patient and in older children often consist of a cough, a runny nose and a low-grade fever.  In infants under the age of one year, symptoms may be more severe and they often have trouble breathing as a result of an RSV infection.  Other worrying symptoms in young infants can include a bluish skin colour, nasal flaring (when the nostrils widen, because someone is having difficulty breathing), rapid breathing, shortness of breath and wheezing.

How does RSV spread?

RSV is very contagious and spreads as other airborne viruses do by means of droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes.  The virus can also survive for hours on surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops or toys and be spread by touch.  If someone touches a contaminated surface, and then touches their mouth or nose, the virus can be spread easily. Complications of RSV can include pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) and bronchiolitis (inflammation of the airways).

How can RSV be prevented?

Regular washing of hands by both adults and children can help prevent RSV, and children who have RSV should be kept away from younger siblings as far as is possible.

Antibiotics cannot treat viral infections, and mild infections usually go away without treatment or with self-care measures (over-the-counter), but infants with severe cases of RSV might need to be hospitalised in order to be treated with oxygen and intravenous (a drip administered into a vein) fluids.

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