RSV, the “respiratory syncytial virus”, is the virus at the origin of a very common respiratory infection in infants; however, it can occur at any age.  

How is RSV transmitted?

RSV is transmitted by coughing, sneezing and saliva and enters the body by the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes and mouth, and then spreads in the respiratory tract.  

RSV is very contagious and is transmitted easily and quickly:

  • by air during coughing, sneezing or nose blowing
  • by direct contact with the infected person (shaking hands, hugging, kissing, caring for children, etc.)
  • by indirect contact via a contaminated surface or item (toys, door handles, etc.).

RSV is transmitted mainly at the beginning of the infection: it survives for 30 minutes on the skin and 6 to 7 hours on linen and other items (stethoscopes, toys, etc.).

Infection by RSV is very common in confined and overcrowded spaces (crèches, nursing homes etc.).

Hand hygiene, the use of paper handkerchiefs and covering one’s mouth when coughing are good preventative measures.

For how long is one contagious?

In general an infected person is contagious as long as he has symptoms.

The length of time an infected person remains contagious however also depends on age: 

  • young children of less than 6 years may be contagious for 3 weeks
  • adults normally are contagious for 2 to 8 days
  • the immunocompromised may remain contagious for several months.

No protective immunity

The presence of antibodies does not protect infants and recurrent infections are frequent, particularly during the first 3 years of life.

Reinfections by RSV are, however, generally less severe.


Sciensano centralises and analyses all data provided by the different partners (network of sentinel laboratories and the National Reference Centre) and in this way is able to follow up the evolution of RSV infections.

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