A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER of child hospitalisations have been recorded in the Mid-West due to rising levels of RSV.

Public Health HSE Mid-West and UL Hospitals Group are urging parents to be vigilant of their children’s symptoms.

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a highly contagious respiratory disease, which generally occurs between October and April, with cases peaking in December.

In the past fortnight, medics saw the highest ever weekly number of cases of RSV and the highest ever weekly number of hospitalisations caused by RSV in Ireland and has surpassed the peak of last year’s RSV surge. Current trends indicate that RSV has yet to peak this season.

RSV is mostly mild in adults and older children but can cause bronchiolitis in very young babies. This may lead to breathing and feeding difficulties and can result in hospitalisation. It can also be serious and life-threatening for older adults, individuals with weak immune systems, and children who are premature or have chronic heart and lung disease. RSV is one of the leading causes of bronchiolitis, which is a common chest infection in babies (under six months) and young children (under two years).

There have been at least 260 cases of RSV in Limerick (123), Tipperary (82), and Clare (55) since October, as of December 2.

Most cases of bronchiolitis/RSV can be cared for at home, and can clear without treatment. However, symptoms can worsen quickly, so it is important to watch symptoms.

Advice regarding creches and childcare services:

  • At this time of year, children may have a runny nose or slight cough, and they should not be prevented from attending if they are feeling well with one mild symptom. However, if a child is feeling unwell with more significant symptoms, or combination of symptoms (cough, runny nose and mild fever) then they should be at home until the fever and their symptoms have gone. Children may have a persistent cough for after infection for a few weeks so once the fever and other symptoms have gone, they should not be excluded for the cough alone.
  • Good ventilation of shared spaces, good hand hygiene and cleaning of surfaces, and good cough etiquette (coughing into tissue or elbow rather than on hands) also help in preventing spread.

Initial symptoms can include:

  • runny nose
  • blocked nose
  • mild fever (temperature of 38 degrees Celsius)
  • slight cough

Further symptoms usually develop over the next few days, including:

  • mild fever (temperature of 38 degrees Celsius)
  • a dry and persistent cough
  • rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing)
  • feeding less
  • fewer wet nappies
  • vomiting after feeding
  • being irritable

Dr Kenneth Beatty, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, said: “With the holiday season upon us, we are particularly concerned about the level of RSV among young children in the community, and the severe pressure it is causing on our hospitals. It’s important that if your children are unwell with symptoms of cough, shortness of breath and fever they do not attend their crèche until the symptoms have passed.

“Adults with similar symptoms should also limit their contact with very young children to prevent spread of RSV and other respiratory viruses. While RSV can have serious outcomes in young children, we know it can easily spread to older people, who can become seriously ill with this illness. If your child is unwell and you are concerned, speak to your GP, and avoid any contact with creches and elderly relatives.”

Dr Barry Linnane, Paediatric Respiratory Consultant at University Hospital Limerick, said the numbers of infants being assessed or treated in University Hospital Limerick for RSV reflected the national trend, which has started rising in recent weeks. “Last year, RSV came very early, and peaked at unprecedented high numbers. This year, starting a little later, we are now beginning to see the number of RSV cases increase, and are bracing ourselves for a significant surge in numbers in the coming weeks”.

Dr Linnane added, “RSV is very contagious and most infants will have an infection of the upper respiratory tract, with symptoms such as mild cough, cold or runny nose. But for 25% of infants, the virus goes down into the lungs and cause bronchiolitis, which can put the lungs under severe pressure, leading to hospitalisation in some cases. There are no vaccines so we have to follow advice we’ve become familiar with from COVID-19, such as hand-washing, and coughing and sneezing etiquette. However, those who are most susceptible, the under-2s and under-1s, need a lot of help with that. So we urge parents of children with symptoms not to let them mix with other people, or to allow infants to mix with anyone who has those symptoms. It’s very difficult to manage in this particular age group, but it’s imperative that we do what we can to limit the spread of RSV to protect our children and minimise pressure on the hospital system”.

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