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Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection

Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection

3 November 2017

Causative agent

This infection is caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a single stranded, RNA virus. RSV infection occurs throughout the year in Hong Kong.

Clinical features

RSV causes respiratory tract diseases such as infection of the airway, lungs and middle ear. It is the most common cause of chest infection for those under 1 year of age. Patients develop fever and other symptoms such as chills, headache, decreased appetite, body ache or weakness, and occasionally gastrointestinal disturbances in infants.

Mode of transmission

The virus can be transmitted by direct contact with infectious secretions, by droplets spread, or indirectly through contaminated hands, eating utensils or articles freshly soiled by nasal discharge of the infected person.

Incubation period

The incubation period is 1 – 10 days, usually 5 – 7 days.


The infection usually subsides in about 1 – 2 weeks. Most patients can be managed with supportive treatment. Severe cases may need oxygen therapy and tube feeding. Antiviral agent may be considered for patients with congenital heart or lung diseases. For bacterial complications such as pneumonia, sinusitis or middle ear infection, antibiotics may be needed.


Vaccine is not available at the moment. To prevent the infection, members of the public are advised to:

  1. Build up good body immunity by having a balanced diet, regular exercise and adequate rest, reducing stress and do not smoke.
  2. Keep hands clean at all time. Perform hand hygiene frequently, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes, after touching public installations such as handrails or door knobs or when hands are contaminated by respiratory secretion after coughing or sneezing.
  3. Wash hands with liquid soap and water properly. When hands are not visibly soiled, clean them with 70 - 80% alcohol-based handrub as an effective alternative.
  4. Cover nose and mouth with tissue paper when sneezing or coughing. Dispose the soiled tissue paper into a lidded rubbish bin, and then wash hands thoroughly.
  5. Put on a surgical mask when having respiratory symptoms.
  6. Maintain good indoor ventilation. Avoid going to crowded or poorly ventilated public places; high-risk individuals may consider putting on surgical masks while in such places.
  7. Refrain from work or school when having respiratory symptoms. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist or deteriorate.
  8. Frequently clean and disinfect touched surface such as furniture, toys and commonly shared items with 1:99 diluted household bleach (mixing 1 part of 5.25% bleach with 99 parts of water), leave for 15 - 30 minutes, and then rinse with water and keep dry. For metallic surface, disinfect with 70% alcohol.
  9. Use absorbent disposable towels to wipe away obvious respiratory secretions, vomitus and excreta and then disinfect the surface and neighbouring areas with 1:49 diluted household bleach (mixing 1 part of 5.25% bleach with 49 parts of water), leave for 15 - 30 minutes and then rinse with water and keep dry. For metallic surface, disinfect with 70% alcohol.
  10. Disinfect eating and drinking utensils after use can reduce the risk of spread of the disease.
  11. Infected persons should avoid contact with children or those with low body resistance.