RSV: Symptoms and prevention this winter

winter colds and flu

by Stephanie Spencer |
Updated on

Advertisement feature

This sponsored article is a part of the ‘Together Against RSV’ disease awareness initiative created and funded by Sanofi.

As we edge closer to winter, we all know colds, flu and respiratory illnesses are more common. We should be more alert to these illnesses after the COVID-19 pandemic, however in a recent survey funded and commissioned by Sanofi, only 45% of parents said the COVID-19 pandemic made them more aware of the measures and advice available to help protect their child against respiratory illness[1]. So, just how can we help prevent these infections from spreading, and how do we know it’s not something more serious?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. Whilst RSV can affect up to 90% of children by the age of two[2], research indicates that there is still a lack of knowledge and awareness among parents.

As part of the Together Against RSV disease awareness campaign, a survey was launched in November 2022 amongst 518 parents and expectant parents in the UK. The survey was focused on parent’s concerns as we head into the winter season, and how COVID-19 has impacted their knowledge of respiratory illnesses.

The survey found that over 1/3 (38%) of parents have said they are not likely to seek medical advice if their child was showing cold-like symptoms[1], and 19% wouldn’t for problems feeding and drinking[1], but over half (59%) would for a rash or skin-irritation[1].

However, cold-like symptoms are key symptoms of RSV [3,4], cases of which we expect to see rise as we head towards winter based on the current trajectory of the RSV season in the southern hemisphere. The seasons in the southern hemisphere can often be said to be a precursor of what is to come in the northern hemisphere. Australia is seeing an increase in cases of up to 10 times more than what was seen last year [5].

Although cold-like symptoms are common they could also be an indication of RSV related illness. These symptoms can lead to more severe illnesses such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia and croup[3,4] so it’s essential parents are aware of the symptoms so they can manage the virus at home and seek medical care if necessary.

  • Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat, cough or fever

  • Drowsiness

  • Problems feeding or drinking

  • Difficulty breathing[6,7,8]

Other symptoms may include:

  • Your baby seems very tired or irritable

  • A persistent high temperature of 38 oC or above

  • They have not had a wet nappy for 12 hours or more, or

  • They’re not feeding normally (i.e. they have taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds)[6].

If you have concerns or your child is showing any of these symptoms, contact your GP or call 111.

Although not common, sometimes symptoms can become severe quickly and more urgent help is needed. The NHS recommends that you call 999 if you notice that your baby has difficulty breathing, there are long pauses between each breath, or their lips or tongue turn blue (cyanosis). On darker skin this may be easier to see on the lips, tongue or gums, under nails, or around your baby’s eyes[6,7].

You can get more information about the signs of RSV and when to seek help from the Together Against RSV Parent Guide and Symptom Checker.

How to prevent RSV

There are things you can do to help prevent the spread of RSV, such as frequent hand washing and disinfecting surfaces and toys. Avoiding close contact with others showing symptoms of RSV is also a good way to help prevent transmitting the infection[6].

RSV is a concern as we head towards winter due to colder weather and colder homes increasing children’s vulnerability to contracting the virus[9]. With the colder weather nearing and the cost-of-living crisis, a survey commissioned and funded by Sanofi found that parents biggest concerns were keeping their home warm (41%) and their child’s health (40%)[1].

In fact these two concerns are interlinked, as a recent report from the University College London’s Institute of Health Equity states that rates of respiratory illness are over twice as high in children who had lived in cold, damp homes[9].

6 ways to keep your house warm

Since we’re all continuing to feel the pinch in the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, it’s likely some of us have considered turning down our heating, but when this could come at the cost of our health, it’s a real concern. However, there are ways to keep your house warmer so you can save money and avoid the negative impacts of a cold home.

1 - Close your curtains and use draught excluders to keep the heat in and the cold out.

2 - Open your windows during the day to allow sunlight to heat your rooms.

3 - Wrap up warm – wear layers and most importantly keep your feet warm in slippers or thick socks.

4 - Don’t block your radiators – avoid hanging washing or having your sofa in front of the radiator as this will prevent the heat coming out into your room.

5 - Use timers – this means you can heat your home when you’re there, and keep it feeling snug when you walk through the door.

6 - Turn down the thermostat – The World Health Organisation previously recommended a minimum temperature of 21°C in the living room, but Public Health England revised this to 18°C in 2014[10].

References

1: 518 respondents. 14 – 18 November 2022.Toluna Parent Survey 2022, Data on file

2: Wennergren, G and Kristjånsson, S. Relationship between respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis and future obstructive airway diseases. Eur Respir J. 2001; 18:1044–1058 DOI: 10.1183/09031936.01.00254101

3: Babycentre. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). [Online] Available at: https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a25022968/respiratory-syncytial-virus-rsv [Accessed February 2023]

4: UK Government. Guidance. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): symptoms, transmission, prevention, treatment. [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/respiratory-syncytial-virus-rsv-symptoms-transmission-prevention-treatment/respiratory-syncytial-virus-rsv-symptoms-transmission-prevention-treatment [Accessed February 2023]

5: Australian Government. Department of Health & Aged Care. National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System: https://nindss.health.gov.au/pbi-dashboard/ [Accessed August 2023] at:  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1120325/Weekly_Flu_and_COVID-19_report_w47.pdf [Accessed August 2023]

6: Welsh Government. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and bronchiolitis. [Online] Available at: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2021-10/respiratory-syncytial-virus-rsv-and-bronchiolitis-leaflet.pdf  [Accessed February 2023]

7: Bliss. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). [Online] Available at: https://www.bliss.org.uk/parents/about-your-baby/medical-conditions/respiratory-conditions/respiratory-cyncytial-virus-rsv [Accessed February 2023]

8: Asthma + Lung UK. Signs of breathing problems in children. How to spot respiratory tract infections in children. [Online] Available at: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/signs-of-breathing-problems/how-to-spot-respiratory-tract-infections-in-children [Accessed February 2023]

9: Institute of Health Equity. Fuel Poverty, Cold Homes and Health Inequalities in the UK. [Online] Available at: https://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fuel-poverty-cold-homes-and-health-inequalities-in-the-uk [Accessed February 2023]

10: UK Health Security Agency. Top tips for keeping warm and well this winter. 11 November 2022. [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keep-warm-keep-well-leaflet-gives-advice-on-staying-healthy-in-cold-weather/top-tips-for-keeping-warm-and-well-this-winter [Accessed February 2023]

Job bag number: MAT-XU-2300266 (v1.0)

Date of prep: August 2023

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us
How we write our articles and reviews
Mother & Baby is dedicated to ensuring our information is always valuable and trustworthy, which is why we only use reputable resources such as the NHS, reviewed medical papers, or the advice of a credible doctor, GP, midwife, psychotherapist, gynaecologist or other medical professionals. Where possible, our articles are medically reviewed or contain expert advice. Our writers are all kept up to date on the latest safety advice for all the products we recommend and follow strict reporting guidelines to ensure our content comes from credible sources. Remember to always consult a medical professional if you have any worries. Our articles are not intended to replace professional advice from your GP or midwife.