Wednesday 26 September 2018

What is RSV? The serious virus causing major delays at children's hospitals

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Eilish O'Regan and Geraldine Gittens

The three main children’s hospitals in Dublin are seeing a surge in young patients with a serious respiratory virus.

The outbreak of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), the most common cause of pneumonia in children under the age of one, is causing major patient delays.

Parents are being urged not to bring their child to Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin, Temple St or Tallaght Hospital if possible and seek advice from their GP instead.

A spokeswoman said the increase in cases has led to a dramatic rise in attendances and admissions to the three hospitals and it has been particularly bad this week.

She said: “Of particular note is an increase in young children and infants presenting with respiratory infections, in particular a viral infection known as RSV.

“While this occurs every winter, the increase in presentations to our emergency departments has been more significant this season.

“Some babies and children with this virus can become very unwell requiring supportive treatment and prolonged hospital admissions. Based on previous infection control data it is anticipated that this virus will continue to be at peak levels for the next three to four weeks.”

What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

It is a common virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but it can be serious - especially for infants and older adults.

By two years of age, nearly all children have been infected with RSV at least once. Most cases are not specifically diagnosed as RSV; however it causes 80pc of bronchiolitis and 20pc of pneumonia cases in young children.

It is a significant cause of infection and outbreaks in hospitals, neonatal units, day units and nursing homes.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can appear between two to eight days after a person is infected and include the following:

• Fever

• Runny nose

• Sore throat

• Cough and sometimes croup (a barking cough caused by inflammation of the upper airways)

• Wheezing

• Decreased appetite

• Ear infections (in children)

How is it spread?

RSV is highly infectious, and outbreaks typically occur in the winter months. It usually spreads from person-to-person when people with RSV cough, sneeze or spit.

A person can get RSV by touching a surface or object with RSV on it (a doorknob, for example) and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Who is most at risk?

Although it is primarily a childhood infection, it can occur at any age and can be most severe in the very young (under one year of age), the immunocompromised (those with weakened immune systems), and in those aged 65 years and older.

Premature infants, children less than two years of age with congenital heart or chronic lung disease, and children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment are at highest risk of severe disease.

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