What is it?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the leading causes of respiratory tract infections in young children. While for some it can cause the common cold, for others, it may lead to more severe infection. Children < 1 year of age, individuals with underlying medical conditions (e.g., chronic cardiac and lung disease), the older population, and immunocompromised people are more likely to experience serious disease and hospitalisation.   

What to look for

Cold-like symptoms such as rhinorrhea (runny nose), fever, wheeze, headache and cough are common. Symptoms generally appear 1-5 days after exposure and can last 8-15 days. 

Whilst most infections are mild, bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways) and pneumonia (lung infection) can occur in severe presentations and may lead to hospitalisation for supportive measures such as oxygen therapy and rehydration.  

How can it be transmitted?

RSV is highly contagious and can be transmitted via the inhalation of droplets containing the virus. RSV can also be transmitted when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their face. 

People with RSV are generally considered infectious for 3-8 days. However, some people continue to spread the virus for up to 4 weeks. 


RSV infections are commonly seasonal, with a peak in cases usually seen over autumn and winter. Almost all children will have experienced infection by the age of 2 years.  


Practicing good hand hygiene is important in preventing infections. 

There are currently no vaccines registered for use within Australia. However, there are many RSV vaccines under development in clinical trials. Previous infection with RSV can provide some immunity but this protection is not long term. 

Synagis® (palivizumab) is an immunoglobulin (a blood product offering donated antibodies) currently available to some infants considered to be at higher risk of severe RSV disease (due to medical conditions such as prematurity, chronic lung disease, and specific cardiac conditions). It is not routinely available to all infants. Doses are calculated according to weight and given monthly over the winter period (usually May to October).  

Authors: Georgina Lewis (Clinical Manager SAEFVIC, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) and Rachael McGuire (MVEC Education Nurse Coordinator)

Date: June 20, 2023

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.