Parents warned as child respiratory illness on the rise this summer

pharmafile | July 23, 2021 | News story | Medical Communications  

Parents are being warned to be on the lookout for signs of a common childhood respiratory illness, RSV, as cases are rising rapidly this summer.

Hospitals are treating a growing number of children with illnesses, usually only seen in winter, after the levels of such cases fell during the pandemic, health officials in England have said.

An official warning from Public Health England said that more young people with high temperatures and difficulty breathing are seeking help amid a surge in the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which usually hits at a different time of year.

Positive RSV samples among suspected cases have increased over the past five weeks from 1.2% to 8.9%.

Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including fever with a high temperature of 37.8C or above, a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, and rapid or noisy breathing.

The unexpected spike in RSV cases comes after a year of much lower infections, due to restrictions in place throughout the pandemic. Experts fear this means many children will not have developed immunity, leading to a higher number of cases this year

The UK Health Minister, Lord Bethell, said: “I remember the long nights in hospital when my eight-week old daughter fought off RSV. The image of her tiny body plugged into those machines and gasping for air will not leave me. I would not wish those moments for anyone.

“I urge all parents and carers to be alert to the signs of RSV, particularly among young children. It’s a nasty bug, so watch out for it.”

NHS England began planning for the potential rise in paediatric respiratory infections in April 2021, with paediatric units bringing forward their usual winter planning.

As part of this in response to summer cases, the offer of the preventive medicine palivizumab – used to prevent respiratory illness – has been brought forward from the usual October start date and the number of doses has been extended from five to seven. It will also be offered to young children who are at the highest risk of complications from RSV.

RSV is a very common virus and almost all children are infected with it by the time they are two years old. In older children and adults, it may cause a cough or cold.

However, some children under two, especially those born prematurely or with a heart condition, can suffer more serious consequences from these common infections, another of which is bronchiolitis – an inflammatory infection of the lower airways, which can make it hard to breathe.

Kat Jenkins

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