RSV – What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

RSV Virus Babies Window to the Womb

RSV – What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus?

RSV Virus is a common virus, and almost all children are infected with this by the time they reach 2 years old. The virus can make it’s way down the small airwaves in the lungs (also known as the bronchioles) and cause them to become inflamed. 

The virus is spread through coughs and sneezes and can live on surfaces – it is more dominant late autumn to early spring.

This inflammation can make breathing difficult for little ones causing a build-up of mucus. This is because babies use only their noses to breath as they don’t develop the reflex to open their mouth until around 3-4 months.

As babies and children have such small airwaves that aren’t developed yet, they are at higher risk of the RSV virus developing into bronchiolitis.

Who is at Risk?

RSV is extremely common in infants and is almost most of the time – mild. There are factors which increase the risk of it developing into being more severe:


Most children that develop RSV have very mild symptoms which clear within 2 – 3 weeks, however it’s crucial to look for symptoms of more serious issues.

Early signs are very similar to a common cold such as a raised temperature, runny or blocked nose or cough.

These symptoms may get worse before you see improvements and include:

  • A rasping and persistent dry cough
  • Rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing)
  • Brief pauses in their breathing
  • Feeding less and having fewer wet nappies
  • Vomiting after feeding
  • Being irritable

Treating Symptoms at Home

  • Keeping your child upright can make breathing easier and support the head
  • Plenty of fluids and more frequent feeds to ensure they’re hydrated
  • Keeping the air moist using a humidifier
  • Ensuring your home is at a good temperature – but not too hot as this can dry the air out

When to Seek Medical Advice

If your child experiences the following:

  • The aren’t feeding normally (they have taken less than half their usual amount during the last 2 or 3 feeds)
  • Haven’t had a wet nappy for 12 hours or more
  • Are breathing very fast
  • Have a persistent high temperature of 38C or above
  • Seem very tired or irritable

The NHS also recommends seeking medical advice, particularly if your child is less than 12 weeks old, or has a heart or lung condition or existing condition from birth.

You can read more about the RSV virus on the NHS website or you can get in touch with your GP. 

We also recommend enrolling on local first aid courses in your area. These courses can offer crucial life-saving skills in an emergency – British Red Cross offer courses across the country.