What Parents Need To Know About The Respiratory Winter Virus, RSV

In the past three months, more than 1,000 children have been admitted to hospital with the virus.
Watch out for this common winter virus in babies.
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Watch out for this common winter virus in babies.

Parents are being warned by a charity about a common winter virus that causes breathing problems in young children.

The British Lung Foundation has advised mums and dads to be mindful of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) which could resurface in January after cases were reported last winter.

The winter virus has mild symptoms in children, as with Covid, but some can sometimes require hospital treatment.

With more coughs and viruses travelling around this month than last winter, parents should be cautious of RSV.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

The British Lung Foundation said that RSV is normally responsible for 20,000 hospitalisations for babies under the age of one, and yet many parents were unaware of it.

The pandemic did help curb it as lockdowns and fewer social mixing stopped the spread. However, last summer, RSV returned out of season and hasn’t dissipated since.

Emergency departments became overwhelmed with RSV in children, said the charity, and in the past three months, more than 1,000 children have been admitted to hospital with the virus.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

RSV infection causes symptoms similar to a cold, including rhinitis (runny nose, sneezing or nasal congestion), cough, and sometimes fever. Ear infections and croup (a barking cough caused by inflammation of the upper airways) can also occur in children.

RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis, an infection of the small airways in the lung, in babies and infants, which can make breathing harder and cause difficulty feeding.

During the RSV season a laboratory diagnosis isn’t always necessary as infection can be managed. Specific laboratory tests to confirm RSV require a sample to be taken from the nose and throat.

How can parents try to prevent RSV?

Transmission can be reduced through standard infection control practices such as respiratory hygiene, hand washing with soap and warm water, and cleaning of surfaces.

Ideally, people with colds should avoid close contact with newborn babies, infants born prematurely (before 37 weeks), children under 2 born with heart or lung conditions, and those with weakened immune systems.

Smoking around young children is a risk factor for severe RSV infection.

Is there a treatment for RSV?

There’s no specific treatment suitable for general use, and treatment is therefore aimed at supporting the patient and relieving symptoms.