Kids Health Info

Respiratory Syncytial Virus RSV

  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children. It is a virus that causes infection of the lungs and breathing passages.

    Signs and symptoms

    RSV in children is normally associated with moderate to severe cold-like symptoms and will usually cause some or all of the following symptoms:

    • runny nose
    • coughing
    • wheezing
    • fever
    • more breathing issues/problems in children with asthma

    These symptoms generally last between 8 and 15 days. RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under 1 year of age.

    Children with RSV are infectious immediately before the symptoms appear.

    Who is affected by RSV?

    Most children aged under two-years will have been infected by RSV. Re-infections usually occur throughout life.

    How is it spread?

    RSV spreads quickly and easily among children through things like coughing and sneezing, sharing of cups and other objects that have been in the infected child's mouth, nose or eyes. RSV is very contagious and can live on surfaces for hours, and on unwashed hands for 30-60 minutes. Good hygiene habits can reduce the chance of your child getting the virus or passing it on to others.

    At home care

    If your child has RSV:

    • Keep them home if they feel unwell. If they feel well, they can continue with their normal activities (kinder, school etc).
    • Don't allow children to share drinks, cutlery or toys (whenever possible) and ensure these are cleaned thoroughly with soap and water between use.
    • Encourage your child to cough and sneeze into a tissue. Throw the tissue away.
    • It is very important that you/your child washes their hands once they have blown their nose to stop the germs from spreading.
    • Wash your hands after having any contact with someone who has cold symptoms.
    • Minimise close contact with newborn babies or people who are immune suppressed.
    • Children do not need to be kept away from school unless they are not feeling well.


    • Most cases of RSV are mild and can be treated with plenty of rest.
    • Encourage them to drink lots of fluids.
    • Give them paracetamol if needed to help with any pain or discomfort.
    • Do NOT give aspirin to children.
    • Continue usual medications (eg. for asthma and diabetes).
    • If an infant has RSV, give them small amounts of fluid (water) regularly.

    Call your doctor if:

    • your child has a high temperature (fever) and does not look well
    • f your child has a mucus filled nose
    • if the cough becomes worse, or your child starts coughing up yellow, green or grey mucus
    • if your child is dehydrated
    • if you baby refuses to breast or bottle feed and is very irritable

    Dial 000 or go to hospital emergency if your child is having trouble breathing, or is breathing very quickly, or their lips or fingernails look blue.

    Key points to remember

    • Your child can go to school if they feel okay.
    • RSV is very infectious, so good hygiene is most important.
    • Keep infected children away from newborn babies and immune suppressed people.
    • Don't allow children to share cups, cutlery or toys.
    • Encourage play in the fresh air or somewhere that has good ventilation.

    For more information

    Developed by RCH Infection Control- June 2008. Updated November 2010.
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts.