Paediatrics (children's doctor)

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Introduction to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common and contagious virus that usually affects children below the age of 2. Most of the time the virus causes no problems and passes with time.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common and contagious virus that usually affects children below the age of 2. Most of the time the virus causes no problems and passes with time. However, in a small number of cases, the infection can cause serious complications called bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis is where the smallest airways of the lung become inflamed and cause difficulty breathing by reducing the amount of air the can enter and leave the lungs.

What are the causes for Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

The virus is caught through the environment and is very common. It is easily spread and highly contagious, good hygiene is therefore essential in those at high risk of infection. It only causes a problem in a small number of babies and there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of a child being susceptible to the a serious episode of bronchiolitis, these include premature babies, newborns under the age of 10 weeks old, having a lung and/or heart disease or being immunocompromised.

What are the symptoms of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

Symptoms are very similar to the common cold and most of the time pass as if it was just a cold. These symptoms include a cough, nasal congestion and a runny nose. Symptoms that require a visit to the Doctor include a high fever, breathing difficulty, loss of appetite, dehydration, inactivity and thick discharge from the nose. Severe signs include rapid breathing and a pale or cyanotic appearance (e.g. bluish colouration to the fingernails or lips).

How is Respiratory Syncytial Virus treated?

There is no medication to treat RSV. The symptoms caused by RSV infection are therefore treated. In a mild case of RSV, nasal sprays and regular fluids are enough to treat at home, alongside paracetamol and ibuprofen to reduce temperatures. In serious cases, babies require hospitalisation and treatment usually involves oxygen, intravenous fluids and medications that cause the airways to open up.

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