ISSN 2398-2993      

Bovine respiratory syncytial virus: the virus


Veronica Fowler

Tammy Hassel

Synonym(s): RSV, BRSV




  • Order: mononegavirales.
  • Family: pneumoviridae.
  • Genus: orthopneumovirus.
  • Species: bovine orthopneumovirus.

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Clinical Effects



  • Cattle are the natural hosts of respiratory syncytial virus.
  • Other species such as sheep and goats may also play an epidemiological role.


  • Infection occurs via inhalation of aerosols containing virus.
  • Disease outbreaks are generally higher in the autumn and winter months.
  • Clinical cattle are believed to be the likely source of infection, however persistently infected animals may also be involved.
  • The incubation period is between 2-5 days.
  • The virus can be transmitted by contaminated people/equipment.

Pathological effects

  • Respiratory syncytial virus replicate predominantly in the ciliated airway epithelial cells and type II pneumocytes.
  • Replication results in the expression of cellular adhesion molecules and the recruitment of neutrophils and lymphocytes to the lung, resulting in bronchiolitis and interstitial pneumonia.
  • Cattle infected with respiratory syncytial virus develop a high fever (40 °C), depression, decreased feed intake and a range of respiratory signs (cough, increased respiration rate, lacrimal discharge).
  • Airways can become obstructed due to accumulation of mucus.
  • Secondary bacterial infections can occur. 

Other Host Effects

  • Infection with respiratory syncytial virus leads to immunosuppression.


Control via animal

  • Avoid stress trigger factors such as transportation and crowding.
  • Rearing calves away from older cattle.

Control via chemotherapies

  • Supportive therapy and antibiotics (to control secondary bacterial infections).
  • Antihistamines/corticosteroids may relieve respiratory symptoms.
Corticosteroids should be used with care, due to immunosuppressive effects.

Control via environment

  • Avoid exposing cattle to adverse weather conditions.
  • Implement robust biosecurity Biosecurity measures (eg providing boots for visitors), especially on dual purpose farms.
  • Good hygiene in calf pens.
  • Implementation of a closed herd policy.


  • A range of vaccines are available (inactivated and live), although the efficacy of these vaccines is questionable. Respiratory vaccines
  • Protection from the inactivated vaccine tends to be short-lived and will require a booster.
  • Modified live vaccines do not require a booster.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Murray G M, More S J, Sammin D, Casey M J, McElroy M C, O'Neill R G, Byrne W J, Earley B, Clegg T A, Ball H, Bell C J & Cassidy J P (2017) Pathogens, patterns of pneumonia, and epidemiologic risk factors associated with respiratory disease in recently weaned cattle in Ireland. J Vet Diagn Invest 29 (1), 20-34 PubMed.
  • Ellis J A (2016) How efficacious are vaccines against bovine respiratory syncytial virus in cattle? Vet Microbiol PubMed.
  • Guzman E & Taylor G (2015) Immunology of bovine respiratory syncytial virus in calves. Mol Immunol 66 (1), 48-56 PubMed.
  • Grissett G P, White B J & Larson R L (2015) Structured literature review of responses of cattle to viral and bacterial pathogens causing bovine respiratory disease complex. J Vet Intern Med 29 (3), 770-80 PubMed.
  • Sarmiento-Silva R E, Nakamura-Lopez Y & Vaughan G (2012) Epidemiology, molecular epidemiology and evolution of bovine respiratory syncytial virus. Viruses 4 (12), 3452-67 PubMed.
  • Brodersen B W (2010) Bovine respiratory syncytial virus. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 26 (2), 323-33 PubMed.
  • Valarcher J F & Taylor G (2007) Bovine respiratory syncytial virus infection. Vet Res 38 (2), 153-80 PubMed.
  • Van der Poel W H, Brand A, Kramps J A & Van Oirschot J T (1994) Respiratory syncytial virus infections in human beings and in cattle. J Infect 29 (2), 215-28 PubMed.

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