What is RSV?

There has been an increase in the cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

RSV can cause bronchiolitis (inflammation and congestion of the small breathing tubes of the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lung) in both children and adults.

The Australian Department of Health and Aged Care has reported a high increase in cases of RSV. Especially in Early Childhood Education and care settings, including childcare centres, long daycares, family daycares and after school hours care. There seems to be a high concentration of RSV in New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia.

How to tell RSV apart from COVID-19?

Both RSV and COVID-19 present with similar symptoms and both can cause mild to severe illnesses. It's important that you get tested for COVID-19, even if you think you might have RSV.

How is RSV spread?

RSV is highly infectious and can be spread easily through:

  • Droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes.

  • Touching items and surfaces (such as doorknobs, toys or cutlery) that are contaminated with droplets and then touching your face. The virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours.

Individuals are usually infectious for 3 to 8 days after symptoms begin to appear but this may be slightly longer for those with a weakened immune system. Although RSV symptoms are often mild, some children may get very sick and require hospitalisation. It's important to be vigilant and monitor for symptoms of RSV.

Symptoms of RSV

These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all together:

  • Runny nose

  • Cough

  • Fever

  • Sneezing

  • Ear infections (less common)

  • Shortness of breath

  • Wheezing

  • Poor feeding and irritability in babies

Signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis:

  • Fast or laboured breathing

  • Noisy breathing that may sound wheezy

  • Trouble feeding

  • Irritability and fever

You should seek urgent medical review (Urgent Care Centre, Clinic or Hospital) if your child:

  • is excessive sleepy or difficult to rouse.

  • has difficulty breathing; such as irregular breaths or fast breathing, abnormal sucking in between the ribs or using their tummy muscles to breathe.

  • cannot feed normally due to wheezing or coughing, or becomes tired quickly when feeding.

  • has a significantly reduced urine output (as measured in number or weight of wet nappies)

  • has an abnormal skin colour or is sweaty.

  • develops symptoms and is in a high risk group (e.g. born prematurely, less than 10 weeks old)

  • has a weakened immune system.

Call an ambulance immediately if your baby is struggling to breathe or if their lips turn blue.


There is no specific treatment for RSV. Fever and pain can be managed with over the counter medications such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen. Using a humidifier to ease congestion as well as salt water solutions to help clear the nose may also help manage symptoms. For severe infections, hospitalisation may be required for close observation, oxygen and extra fluids. Consult your GP, who can advise on the best form of action.

Make sure that you're taking care of yourself or your family if you have RSV or bronchiolitis. Drinking fluids and getting enough rest is important, along with ensuring good hygiene practices if you or your child is sick to prevent the spread of infection.

If you think you or your child could have RSV or bronchiolitis, visit your GP or have a chat with someone from Sonder who can provide advice and support.

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If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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