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Last week saw the highest number of cases of RSV Ireland has ever recorded in one week

There were 648 RSV cases, including 282 hospital inpatients with RSV, recorded last week.

LAST WEEK SAW the highest number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) Ireland has ever recorded in one week, according to the HSE. 

GPs and hospitals across Ireland are continuing to see a rise in the numbers of young children affected by respiratory symptoms and viruses. 

There were 648 RSV cases, including 282 hospital inpatients with RSV, recorded by the Health Protective Surveillance Centre (HPSC) last week. 

65% of notified RSV cases were in the 0-4-year age group last week.

“Given the current concerning RSV numbers, we all have a particular part to play in protecting newborn and small babies who are most affected,” Dr Lois O’Connor, HSE Consultant in Public Health Medicine, said. 

“The best way we can protect ourselves and our family members from RSV, common colds, and other winter viruses is to reduce the chance of infection and spread,” O’Connor said.

Dr O’Connor advises that there are seven key ways to help prevent the spread of viruses:

  • If you or your child are unwell with cold symptoms, do not attend places with young children and babies, such as child care facilities and school.
  • Parents of young babies do need to take extra care and be clear about shielding babies from coughs and colds. This may mean putting friends and family off from visiting for a while if someone is unwell, not encouraging people to touch your baby’s face, and asking people to wear a mask around your baby can also help.
  • Clean your hands and your child’s often – ask anyone in contact with your child to clean their hands first.
  • Encouraging respiratory hygiene around babies and links to babies. Respiratory hygiene is vital to prevent the spread of respiratory infections: – Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. – Use tissues and throw them away. – Wash your hands after touching your mouth or nose. It is important to teach your child how to do this if they are old enough.
  • Continue breastfeeding as this may prevent babies from getting a respiratory illnesses, including bronchiolitis caused by RSV. This is because babies get special proteins called antibodies from breastmilk. Antibodies can protect your child from infection.
  • Keep children away from smoking.
  • To protect your children and those around them from flu, parents of children aged 2 to 17 are advised to get your children vaccinated against flu. 

Explaining why we are seeing such a steep rise in respiratory infections this winter, Dr O’Connor said that “this year children are in more contact with one another and therefore the risk of spreading of winter respiratory viruses is increased”.

“In addition, because children had limited contact with one another last year their exposure to all respiratory viruses and resultant immune response was reduced. As a result more children will have lower immunity to these viruses this year,” O’Connor said.

“The good news is that most cases of respiratory virus infections are mild and clear up within two to three weeks without treatment,” she said.

O’Connor noted that antibiotics are not needed and will not help to treat a viral infection.

“We advise parents to always contact their GP if they are worried, especially if a child’s symptoms get worse quickly or if the symptoms and fever persist despite the use of paracetamol and ibuprofen”.

RSV causes Bronchiolitis, which is a common chest infection in babies and young children.

This virus spreads when someone coughs or sneezes and it mostly affects babies and young children under 2 years old, especially babies under 6 months old. Most cases are mild and clear up within two to three weeks without treatment. 

Sometimes, RSV can be more serious and children with bronchiolitis will need to be cared for in hospital. Parents are advised to trust their instinct, and to always contact their GP if they are worried, especially if the symptoms get worse quickly.

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