Health services in Hull, East Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, North East Lincolnshire, York and North Yorkshire, which are particularly busy as they juggle the demands of Covid-19 and increasing demand for everyday treatment, have started to see an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases among children this summer, whereas the yearly outbreak usually begins in late autumn and peaks during winter.
The rise in out-of-season cases, in line with similar increases across the country, comes after there were far fewer infections during winter due to Covid-19 restrictions put in place. This means many children will not have developed immunity and so health services are expecting to see more cases this year than in a typical season.
RSV is an extremely common virus and most children are infected by it by the time they are two years old. Symptoms of RSV infection in young children include a high temperature, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, laboured breathing, and reduced feeding.
For most young children these illnesses will not be too serious and they will recover within two to three weeks with plenty of rest and fluids. In older children and adults, RSV may cause a cough or cold.
However, some children under two, especially those born prematurely or with a heart condition, can become more seriously ill with conditions such as bronchiolitis, an inflammatory infection of the lower airways which can make it hard to breathe.
The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold but can develop into a high temperature of 37.8C or above (fever), a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious, but you should contact your GP or NHS 111 (by phone or via 111.nhs.uk) if:
- You are worried about your child
- Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more
- Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above
- Your child seems very tired or irritable
Call 999 for an ambulance if:
- Your baby is having difficulty breathing
- Your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
- There are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
Dr Murray Wheeler, Consultant Paediatrician, York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: said: “In Humber, Coast and Vale we are seeing cases of RSV infection (specifically bronchiolitis) much earlier this year than normal, which mirrors what is happening across the country. While for most young children this is not serious and they will recover fully after two to three weeks without needing medical attention, it can cause more serious illness in some children, particularly those born prematurely or with a heart condition.
In the unlikely event that your child needs emergency medical attention, NHS 111 will provide you with an allocated time slot for arrival and send your child’s information ahead so the A&E staff know when you will be arriving and why you are there.
The When Should I Worry? booklet is a useful source of information on respiratory illnesses and more for parents of young children (over three months). The booklet can be downloaded in many different languages. The booklet can provide reassurance to parents about what to do to ensure their child receives the most appropriate treatment.
RSV is transmitted through droplets from a cough or sneeze, and touching an infected person or surfaces. To reduce risk of infection you should avoid exposing children to people with cold symptoms, wash your hands with soap and water before interacting with children and regularly clean frequently touched surfaces.
Dr Sanjedah Zaro, a GP and Clinical Lead for Maternity and Children Services at North Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We can all take steps to protect young children from infection by continuing to practise the good hygiene habits we’ve grown further accustomed to during the pandemic. Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, especially before interacting with children.