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RSV: Charity warns of surge in cases of young children’s breathing illness this winter

This winter could see a surge in cases of a common young children’s illness which can lead to hospital treatment and sometimes even death, a charity has warned.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is already ‘rife’ because of lowered immunity in the population, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) has said.

The charity has already seen a 400% rise in calls to its helpline from parents worried about their child having breathing difficulties.

Cases of the condition, which is common in babies and children, usually peak in January, but there were few infections last year when there were lockdowns in place.

The BLF said it was concerned that this year children will have “much lower immunity” at a time when the NHS is already under extreme pressure.

Risk of hospitalisation

Almost all children will have had the virus, which may cause a cough or cold, by the time they are two years old.

For some, RSV can lead to bronchiolitis – an inflammatory infection of the lower airways which can make it hard to breathe.

Initially, bronchiolitis resembles a common cold but can develop over a few days into a high temperature, a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, and wheezing.

While many cases clear up in two to three weeks, a number of children need hospital admission.

The BLF said that over the past three months an estimated 1,000 children have needed hospital care in England alone.

New guidance for parents

It has issued new guidance for parents which includes asking anyone who has a cough or cold to stay away from young children, making sure that anyone who handles their child washes their hands regularly and not smoking around young children and babies.

Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at the British Lung Foundation, said: “In general practice, we are seeing a lot of children with coughs and viruses that weren’t circulating last year and so their immunity is lowered.

“Doctors on the ground are concerned that alongside a rapid increase in cases of COVID-19, we are also going to see a surge in diseases like bronchiolitis.

“Like most other colds and viruses, RSV starts with a blocked or runny nose and can progress to cause a cough, fever and sometimes breathing difficulties.

“The good news is that for most children it will be mild and will clear in a few days without any treatment. Sometimes a cough might drag on for a few weeks.

“It is extremely rare for a well child to die of bronchiolitis, but there are some who will need medical help, although that is still unusual.”



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