A young mum whose child has been left with long-term effects after battling a deadly virus is urging people to stop kissing babies.
Three-year-old Koby Symes has been in hospital three times already this year because his lungs were left badly damaged after he contracted Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) when he was just four months old.
As Koby fought the virus in isolation in Dublin's Temple Street Hospital, medics told mum Zoe McGlade that he had probably picked it up from other people holding and kissing him.
Zoe is now appealing to people to keep away from babies as cases of the highly contagious RSV soar to 'unprecedented levels'.
The 25-year-old from Swords, Co Dublin, has a simple piece of advice for all parents of newborns.
"Protect your child before you protect other people's feelings and tell them to keep away from your baby," she said.
"No-one is kissing a baby for themselves.
"The child doesn't need kisses. They are doing it for themselves and putting your child in extreme danger.
"Koby is three and I still have to rush him to hospital every time he gets a cold because his little lungs were damaged so much by a kiss or a pat."
Zoe said even though Koby developed the virus over two years ago, she 'remembers every second of the day."
"Koby developed a bit of a cough so I brought him to the GP who said all was fine.
"However, he got worse so I returned to the GP who gave my baby antibiotics for a chest infection which had developed," she said.
"His chest and belly were contracting, they were so hard and it felt like his rib cage was going to burst open. He was dehydrated and became limp.
"His lips started to turn blue and he was struggling to take breaths so we rushed him to Temple Street on Saturday, 28 December 2019.
"I watched helplessly as Koby was put on oxygen immediately.
"His oxygen levels had dipped to 71 and anything below 94 is dangerous. He was also severely dehydrated and his fontanelle was sunken.
"He had developed the RSV which has spread quickly through his respiratory system and into his lungs.
"He was put in isolation and hooked up to all these machines and monitors. It was very scary for me and Koby's dad Luke."
Zoe was told that the baby had probably picked it up from an adult over the festive period.
"The doctor asked if we were around many people over Christmas and said that the majority of babies develop RSV from other people kissing them or holding them with unwashed hands.
"To us RSV is just like a common cold, so you might just have a bit of a cough or a runny nose but to babies, it is very serious.
"The doctor told me that if I had waited even a few more hours to bring Koby in, it could have been a very different situation. We would have been told to prepare for the worst."
She said there were six other babies in the same ward with RSV at the time, none as serious as Koby.
Koby was left with long term effects and had to be brought to Temple Street Hospital two weeks ago after a cold left him struggling to breathe.
"Doctors say he will grow out of it as his lungs grow and I hope so.
"Everytime he gets a cold now, we nearly always have to bring him to hospital for a nebuliser to help him breathe. I'd like to say I'm used to it but it's still scary.
"When we were in the Emergency Department last week, there were so many babies on oxygen or nebulisers and doctors said it was the highest number of cases of RSV since 2019.
"I thought people had become more careful after Covid-19. I'd say to all parents don't let anyone kiss your baby and make sure they wash their hands before even touching them. You're not being over-protective by doing this - you could be saving your child's life."
Almost 650 cases of RSV were reported in Ireland in the past week — the highest number ever recorded in this country.
The majority of cases are occurring in small children and older people while flu cases are also on the rise.
According to the HSE: "Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.
"RSV causes coughs and colds every winter and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) in infants. RSV also causes pneumonia (lung infection).
"RSV is an important cause of severe respiratory illness among children under two years of age and is also the most common cause of hospital admissions due to acute respiratory illness in young children."