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File photo of medicine being given to a child with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Alamy Stock Photo

Parent of child transferred to Sweden for emergency RSV treatment calls for stronger virus messaging

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre says recent RSV figures are ‘substantially’ higher than other years.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Nov 2022

A PARENT HAS whose child was transferred to Sweden due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has called for “stronger” messaging from the HSE around the virus.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) says recent RSV figures are “substantially” higher than other years.

In the latest reporting period, the highest number of RSV cases were reported.

In the week up to 20 November, there were 731 cases of RSVC, including 290 RSV hospitalisations, notified to the HPSC.

Almost three-quarters of cases (74%) were in children aged four and under.

RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

It is highly contagious and this year’s winter spike is likely the result of a reduced immune response in children after limited contact with one another last year.  

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Paul Murphy said he first realised there was an issue with his 12-week-old son Liam on Halloween night.

Following a routine hospital appointment the following morning, Murphy said Liam became “pale, quite unresponsive, and almost turning blue around the eyes and the mouth”.

Liam was admitted to the ICU in Temple Street with RSV and is still in Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin.

After five days in ICU and a period on a ventilator, it was decided that Liam would have to be transferred to Sweden for emergency ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) treatment that his father Paul described as “very serious, advanced life support”.

Liam was flown to Sweden by air ambulance but there was no room for his parents, who had to make their own way to the country.

When they arrived the next day, Liam’s parents were informed that he had been resuscitated with CPR.

Speaking to RTÉ, Murphy described the virus as a “sticky glue” that wouldn’t allow Liam to breathe.

“It just wouldn’t allow him to breathe, so the machinery had to do with for him and eventually the machinery didn’t work,” said Murphy.

“So they had to completely rest his lungs and that is the ECMO treatment he was put on. It takes the blood out of the body through an artificial lung and back in and it rests the major organs to give the body a chance to recover and the immune system to kick in itself.”

Liam was on this treatment in Sweden for 11 days.

While Murphy ultimately described it as a “positive story”, he added that “the messaging can be stronger”.

“I think RSV is something that the general public, and certainly us before this happened, would consider as a common cold,” said Murphy.

While he noted that the HSE has contacted Early Learning Centres and creches, he said it was his understanding that “the messaging hasn’t gone out officially to schools”.

Murphy said it is “important” that this messaging goes out to schools and added that Liam got the virus from his “older sister who was in the school system”.

“The messaging definitely can be stronger, I know there have been some health warnings on it, but in my view, not sufficient,” said Murphy.

He added that he was very thankful to the medical teams in Temple Street and Crumlin Hospital and to the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.

In response to a query from The Journal, a spokesperson from the HSE said that it has been “raising concerns about increased rates of RSV infection for several weeks now”.

The HSE spokesperson added: “Engagement with both the Department of Children and Department of Education has occurred and following this the HSE drafted a memo for dissemination for child care providers through the Department of Children.

“The risks both directly to children within these facilities, and onward transmission back to homes where there might be young babies, is greatest in these settings.

“The core messages for all (adults and children), are that if you are unwell please stay at home until your symptoms have resolved.”

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