The Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common virus that can affect adults and children. Almost all children would have had an RSV infection by their second birthday. Depending upon the individual’s immunity, the RSV can cause a mild to severe infection, which may require outpatient hospital visits or hospitalisation. Currently, there are no vaccines to prevent RSV infection or reduce mortality due to the virus. Mild cases of RSV require home care and OTC (over-the-counter) medications and usually resolve in a week or two.

Symptoms of The Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Signs and symptoms appear four to six days after exposure to the virus. In adults and older children, the Respiratory Syncytial Virus causes mild cold and flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Dry cough
  • Low-grade fever (less than 100 degrees F)
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

If the RSV infection is severe, it means that it has spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs). 

Signs and symptoms of severe RSV include:

  • Fever
  • Severe cough and wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Skin turning blue due to lack of oxygen

How Does This Virus Spread?

The Respiratory Syncytial Virus spreads easily via infected droplets in the air and enters the body through the eyes, nose or mouth. You can develop this infection when someone who has the infection coughs or sneezes close to you. You can also develop this infection through direct contact like shaking hands with someone who is already infected.

The respiratory syncytial virus can also live on objects and surfaces for hours. Touching these infected surfaces with your hand and placing them on your nose or mouth can cause you to pick up the virus.

A person infected with the virus is usually contagious for the first week after the infection.

How is RSV Diagnosed?

Since the signs and symptoms of a Respiratory Syncytial Virus infection are similar to the regular cold and flu, your doctor may perform a thorough physical examination and recommend a few tests. 

These may include:

  • Routine blood tests
  • Chest X-Ray for evaluating lung inflammation and congestion
  • Swab tests from inside the nose or mouth which provide samples for the PCR test
  • Pulse oximetry readings to determine blood oxygen levels

How Is RSV Treated?

The treatment plan for RSV depends upon the severity of the condition.


Mild RSV

The symptoms of a mild RSV infection are similar to the common cold or flu and usually do not require any treatment. The infection and its symptoms often subside within a week or two.

Here is what you can do at home to feel better:

  • Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen help relieve fever and body aches. Always consult your child’s doctor before giving them any medication for RSV.
  • Drink water to stay hydrated, as dehydration is a possible risk when running a fever. Warm soups and fruit juices help to maintain fluid levels in the body. 
  • Though you may have a low appetite, try and eat a balanced diet that will help boost your immunity.
  • Use a cool mist vaporiser to soothe your nasal passages (if recommended by your doctor)
  • Saline drops may help loosen the mucus in your nose.
  • Always blow your nose in the tissue to keep your airways open and unclogged.
  • Get an ample amount of rest.

Severe RSV

If you or your child show the following signs, you may require emergency medical treatment:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Have developed bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Have a compromised immune system

Treatment for severe RSV includes:

  • An oxygen mask, nasal prongs or a ventilator to assist in breathing
  • IV fluid intake may be required
  • The mucus from the nasal and respiratory passages may be removed
  • Antiviral medications to help your body fight the virus

Since RSV is a viral infection, antibiotics are not the recommended medication. Very few individuals with RSV infections may require hospitalisation.

How Can You Prevent Getting Infected with RSV?

The good news is that RSV can be prevented. Here are some ways to prevent this infection:

  • Always cover your mouth when coughing. However, avoid using your hands to do so. Use a handkerchief or tissue or cough into the fabric of your shirt.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene by washing your hands with soap whenever possible. If you do not have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid coming in close contact with people who are sick or have been infected by RSV.
  • Clean and sanitise toys and objects frequently touched by children.
  • Do not send your children to school or daycare if they are ill or show signs of RSV infection.
  • If your child is at high risk of developing a severe form of RSV, limit their time in social gatherings during the infection season.

Can You Get RSV Infection More Than Once?

If you have been infected by the RSV once, you can develop the infection again in your lifetime. Repeated infections caused by this virus are usually less severe than the first one. But if you are an adult over 65 and have an immune system condition or other chronic conditions like those of the heart, an RSV infection may be serious or cause complications.

Key Takeaway

It can be challenging to determine if your symptoms are due to a routine cold, flu or RSV infection. However, if you are unsure, it is best to visit your doctor, who will perform a thorough diagnosis of your symptoms and recommend suitable treatment. Metropolis pathalogy Labs offers the Flu-Xpert Viral Panel which uses a real-time Multiplex PCR method to find out if you are infected with the Respiratory Syncytial Virus. It only requires a one-time sample collection and results will be available within 12 hours. This will help your doctor determine the cause of your fever and suggest prompt treatment. 



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