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 eight and 15 days. RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year old.

    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 activities such as 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 items are cleaned thoroughly with soap and water between uses.
    • Encourage your child to cough and sneeze into a tissue, then throw the tissue away.
    • It is very important that you and/or your child wash 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 your child to drink lots of fluids.
    • Give paracetamol if needed to help with any pain or discomfort.
    • Do NOT give aspirin to children.
    • Continue usual medications (e.g. such as for asthma and diabetes).
    • If an infant has RSV, give them small amounts of fluid (breastmilk or water) regularly.

    Call your doctor if:

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

    Dial 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department 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.

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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. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.