A common winter virus is doing the rounds among under-fives, with the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) saying that of those being tested, one in three children are testing positive.
RSV – or respiratory syncytial virus – is a very common virus which usually causes cold-like symptoms, with most people recovering in a week or two.
But in some groups, particularly the under-ones, it can be serious. Approximately 30,000 babies and children under five are hospitalised every year because of RSV.
In a winter health update on 2 November, the UKHSA said that in the past week, the overall positivity for RSV increased to 8.7%, with the highest positivity in those aged under five years old at 34.1%
Some children with RSV can go on to develop complications such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. In fact, RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis in infants, accounting for around 60-80% of infections.
Emergency department attendances for acute bronchiolitis have continued to increase nationally in the past week, as well as hospital admission rates.
Signs of RSV
Dr Conall Watson, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Initial symptoms in infants are similar to a cold but can go on to include breathing more quickly or noisily and having difficulties feeding.”
Other symptoms include:
- a sore throat
- runny nose
- cough or fever
“If your baby has a cold that is getting worse, or it is causing unusual breathing or problems feeding, call NHS 111 or contact your GP practice,” Dr Watson said.
“As a parent, you should trust your own judgement and call 999 or go to A&E if your child seems seriously unwell.”
Some key signs of respiratory distress, which require urgent medical attention, include:
- head bobbing
- tracheal tug
- altered level of consciousness
- different breathing pattern (either faster, slower or irregular)
- use of extra muscles to help them breathe
- skin colour changes - around the mouth, inside of lips and fingernails might turn a blueish colour. The skin might also appear pale or grey.
- grunting when breathing
- nose flaring
If symptoms remain mild, there’s no specific treatment for RSV – rest and plenty of fluids tend to work best. Most cases clear up within a few weeks, but parents should contact their GP or call NHS 111 if:
- Their child struggles to breath or experiences any signs of respiratory distress.
- Their child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
- The child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.
How to avoid getting sick
With young children, steering clear of illness is easier said than done. However to give yourself the best chance, it’s best to wash your hands regularly, use a tissue to catch coughs or sneezes, and stay away from others if you or they feel unwell.