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Less well known than the flu or COVID-19, RSV is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections in young children worldwide.[1]It also affects older adults or adults with underlying health conditions.[1]

Unfortunately, RSV can be deadly.[1] There is still no vaccine and few specific treatments available[1][2] but most cases will clear up on their own in a few days.[3]

What is RSV?

RSV is a type of virus that, like the flu, spreads mostly in seasonal outbreaks[2] and affects your lungs and breathing passages, with similar symptoms to a cold.[3] There are two different types of RSV, and you can be infected more than once.[2]

It’s very contagious, spreading through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through direct contact, like kissing.[1][3]People who don’t have symptoms can still spread it, and the virus can persist on surfaces like countertops, toys and doorknobs.[3]It spreads especially quickly in schools, childcare centres and care homes.[1][4]

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Mild symptoms usually appear a few days after infection[5], though healthy adults may not have any.[3] However, some adults are at risk of severe and sometimes life-threatening infections, including older adults, those with asthma, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and people with immunodeficiency.[1]

RSV symptoms are similar to the type you would typically get with a common cold:[5]

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Mild headache
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Babies tend to ‘bob’ their head forward while breathing in. They may also act fussy, cranky, have less energy or be less hungry than usual

Symptoms sometimes lead to a more severe infection, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia.[5] If you get the following symptoms, you need to see a doctor right away:[5]

  • Breathing faster than normal
  • Skin around the ribs pulling in while breathing
  • Cough that is getting worse
  • Choking or vomiting due to strong coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Colour of skin changing to grey or blue

How common is RSV?

RSV is extremely common – in fact, by the time you reach your second birthday you’ve almost definitely had it at least once.[1][3] It usually appears in specific ‘seasons’ – between autumn and spring, or in the rainy season.[1][5]

Sadly, as infections are so common, RSV causes many deaths every year, especially in babies – it’s the second main cause of death in infancy worldwide.[1] Almost all of these deaths are in developing countries.[5]

Babies born around the start of the RSV season are more at risk of severe disease.[1]Younger children (especially those under 6 months old, or with underlying conditions like heart or lung disease) are also at high risk.[1]

In healthy elderly adults, RSV infections can occur in about 3-7% but up to 10% in high-risk adults.[4]Elderly people (those over 65) and anyone with a weak immune system are considered to be at a higher risk.[1][3]


While it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid RSV, here are some tips that can help stop the spread:[3][6]

  • Wash your hands often
  • Wipe hard surfaces with soap or disinfectant
  • Don’t share cutlery or cups
  • Avoid touching your face
  • If you have symptoms of a cold, stay at home and avoid interacting with or kissing high-risk children
  • Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze
  • If you are at a higher risk (over 65, immunosuppressed) – consider wearing a face mask when in closed public spaces
  • If possible, avoid taking high-risk children to childcare centres, especially during peak virus seasons
  • Don’t smoke near your child[3]

Vaccination and treatment

There is no vaccine that can help prevent RSV infection.[3] The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified this as an important priority, and we now know more than ever about how the virus works.[7]

A drug called palivizumab, a monclonal antibody therapy, is available in some countries for the prevention of severe RSV disease in certain infants and children who are at high risk for.[6]

Most infections will usually resolve at home.[5] If hospitalisation is needed, supportive care might include oxygen, and fluids given through a tube.[1]

Caring for someone with RSV

There are things you can do to help someone who is unwell:[8]

  • Speak to a doctor or pharmacist about which medicines are suitable for managing fever or pain
  • Make sure they drink enough fluids
  • Monitor them closely for signs the infection is getting worse[5]

Questions to ask your doctor

The list below includes example questions to help start a conversation with your health care provider. There may be other relevant questions based on your symptoms, stage, and medical history that are not listed here.

  • Am I/is my child more at risk of a severe infection?
  • Do you think it’s safe for my child to attend a nursery or childcare now?
  • Is there anything else that could cause these symptoms?
  • Is there anything that could help my child feel better when they’re sick?
  • Do I need to take extra care around my child if I’m feeling unwell?

Janssen & RSV

We know that there is a great unmet need when it comes to RSV, with no vaccine or specific treatment available yet.[1] That’s why we are combining our passion with innovation to pursue multiple avenues from prevention to treatment, to reduce the serious harm caused by RSV infections.[9]

With all the advances scientists have made in recent years, we hope that RSV will soon become a treatable disease.


  • Antiviral: A medicine that fights viruses in your body.[9]
  • High-risk children: Children who are more likely to have severe disease if they catch RSV. This includes very young babies and children with heart or lung problems.[3]
  • RSV season: A time of the year when RSV infections are more common.[2]


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