All about the RSV virus

November 12, 2012

All about the RSV virus

What is the RSV virus? It is very contagious and mainly seems to affect younger children.

The RSV virus causes bronchiolitis and pneumonia in young infants – usually those under the age of one; most children in the US are thought to have had a bout of RSV before they reach the age of three. It is a very common virus and can also affect adults at any age.

The RSV virus is a ribonucleic acid virus belonging to the pneumovirus class of the paramyxoviridae family.

The RSV virus has various shapes and sizes and seems to have two subtypes – ongoing research into the virus in examining these subtypes and their importance.


The RSV virus is extremely contagious and easily transmitted in bodily secretions through the nose, eyes and mouth. Infection can be the result of close contact with those already infected with the virus or by contact with anything which has been contaminated by the patientÂ’s bodily secretions. Should the droplets expelled by a patient when sneezing or coughing be inhaled this may also result in infection.


Whilst the virus causes respiratory infections the symptoms an RSV virus infection are usually no worse than those experienced when suffering a common cold and self medicated treatment is usually sufficient to relieve any discomfort the patient may be experiencing. Most children recover in less than two weeks with no ill effects.

Three groups of patients may be at higher risk of developing serious health problems as the result of an RSV virus infection -

  • Premature babies

  • Older adults

  • Adults with pre-existing heart and/or lung disease

Symptoms may vary but will usually include some or all of the following -

  • Coughing

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Runny nose

  • Wheeziness

  • Aches and pains

  • Sore throat

Should a more serious lower respiratory tract infection develop symptoms may include -

  • Blue or purple tinge to the skin

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Inability to take in enough oxygen

Complications which may arise from an infection of RSV include -

  • Ear infection

  • Lung failure

  • Pneumonia

  • Immediate medical attention should be sought if any of the symptoms appear to be worsening and if the patientÂ’s condition appears to be deteriorating.

Be alert

An RSV infection may appear to be nothing more than a mild illness, but in those with a weakened immune system or the very young and elderly it can lead to more serious conditions – including pneumonia. A young infant may require hospitalizing in order to be closely monitored throughout their bout of RSV.

Most RSV patients can be easily treated at home by being made comfortable and drinking plenty of fluids. Any fever can be reduced by using a suitable medication; the use of an air humidifier may help to make breathing easier.

Should the patient become dehydrated or develop a high fever which is not coming down then it may be necessary to seek medical advice.

In the environment

The virus will only survive for a few hours on any surface, becoming quickly unstable, and is easily deactivated with the use of soap and water or disinfectant.


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