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Respiratory syncytial virus

Human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) (Family: Pneumoviridae; Genus: Orthopneumovirus) is one of many viruses responsible for cold-like symptoms in humans. Although most infections are mild and last for about a week or two, more serious complications such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia can occur in infants and older people1.

Like other respiratory viruses, human infection occurs by airborne transmission. The virus can also be contracted via contact with contaminated surfaces2. Symptoms associated with RSV infection usually develop within 4 to 6 days and include decreased appetite, runny nose, sneezing and coughing.

In the United Kingdom and similar climates, RSV-associated epidemics usually start in November and last for about 4 months. Over 5000 RSV-associated infections were detected by Public Health England (PHE) and National Health Service (NHS) laboratories in 20193. A vaccine is currently unavailable while treatment involves the use of general antiviral agents such as Ribavirin4.

NCPV assists the scientific community in the study of these viruses and has 13 RSV virus strains currently available in the collection with the aim to include more recent circulating strains.


1, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). Available from: Accessed 17 January, 2020.

2, National Health Service (2018). Bronchiolitis. Available from: Accessed 17 January, 2020.

3, GOV.UK (2019). Research and Analysis. Respiratory Infections: Laboratory Reports 2019. A monthly report on laboratory confirmed respiratory infections in England and Wales. Available from:  Accessed 20 January, 2020.

4, Public Health England (2008). Guidance: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): symptoms, transmission, prevention, treatment. Available from:  Accessed 17 January, 2020.

Written by Okechukwu Onianwa.  

January 2020