Understanding Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes respiratory diseases such as infections of the trachea, lungs and middle ear. This virus is the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in infants under 2 year old. Patients will have fever and other symptoms such as runny nose, cough, headache, loss of appetite, body pain or weakness, and occasionally otitis media.


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Symptoms and Diagnosis of RSV
Symptoms and Diagnosis of RSV

RSV symptoms typically resemble those of a common cold and include congestion or runny nose, cough, fever, and sore throat. In severe cases, RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Infants are most severely affected by RSV. Signs and symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants include short, shallow and rapid breathing, struggling to breathe, cough, poor feeding, unusual tiredness (lethargy), and irritability.


Diagnosis for RSV involves a physical examination followed by laboratory tests. The physical examination checks for abnormal breathing sounds. A swab of the nasal drainage can be analysed to detect the presence of the virus. An X-ray may be done to rule out any other conditions causing similar symptoms.

High-Risk Groups of RSV Infection
High-Risk Groups of RSV Infection

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) can infect people of all ages, but certain groups are more likely to develop severe RSV infection. These high-risk groups include:


  1. Infants and Young Children: RSV is most common in children under the age of 2 years. Their still-developing immune systems make it easy for the virus to attack them.

  2. Adults 65 or Older: As immune systems weaken with age, older adults face a higher risk of RSV. 

  3. People With Weakened Immune Systems: Anyone with a weakened immune system is at higher risk from RSV. If you’re immunocompromised, you’re more likely to get a severe case of RSV, which can cause serious health complications.

  4. People With Chronic Heart or Lung Disease: RSV can cause severe disease in adults with chronic heart disease or lung disease. One study found that people with congestive heart failure were eight times more likely to be hospitalised from RSV than a healthy group of adults.
RSV vs COVID-19 vs Influenza
RSV vs COVID-19 vs Influenza

RSV, COVID-19, and influenza are all common respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. They cause similar symptoms in many cases, but there are some key differences that set them apart. RSV symptoms are typically cold-like and include coughing, decrease in appetite, fever, runny nose, and sneezing. In very young infants, the only symptoms may be irritability, lower energy levels, and difficulty breathing.


On the other hand, COVID-19 symptoms may include congestion or runny nose, cough, diarrhoea, fatigue, fever, headache, muscle or body aches, nausea or vomiting, new loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and sore throat. Influenza symptoms typically come on very suddenly and may include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue or tiredness, headache, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Prevention of RSV Infection
Prevention of RSV Infection

Prevention of RSV involves limiting contact of infants with people and practising good hand hygiene when handling the baby. Marina Medical recommends immunizations to protect those most at risk of getting very sick with RSV: infants, toddlers, and adults 60 years and older. There are also prevention actions that all people can take to help reduce the spread of RSV.


While RSV is a common virus that often results in mild symptoms, it can be severe in certain populations, including infants, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems. Understanding the symptoms, how it spreads, and how to prevent it can help protect you and your loved ones from this virus.

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