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Friday 10 September 2021

Hospital prepares for rise in cases of children's breathing virus

Parents are being urged to know how to spot the signs of a common children’s breathing illness, as University Hospital Southampton (UHS) prepares for an increase in admissions this autumn.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is contagious and can be prevalent among children but has largely been suppressed by social distancing because of Covid in the past 18 months. Recently, we have started to see an increase in cases once again.

Most children infected with RSV only experience mild disease; symptoms are typically a runny nose, coughing and sneezing, fever and wheezing although they probably won’t occur all at once.

However, the virus can cause bronchiolitis – a lower respiratory tract infection that in some cases can prove severe, especially for those under the age of two.

As children across the county return to classrooms this week, UHS is launching an awareness drive alongside colleagues from neighbouring hospitals in Portsmouth, north Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and healthcare providers in the region, to help parents and carers recognise the symptoms so they can take action early.

Modelling by Public Health England predicts there could be twice as many more cases of children needing hospitalisation than normal this autumn and winter.

Dr Sanjay Patel, consultant paediatrician specialising in infectious disease at UHS, said awareness was key so parents know when and where to seek help if a child becomes ill.


Dr Patel said: “RSV affects young children every year. However, there were such low rates of RSV last winter, due to the measures we were all taking to protect against Covid-19, meaning many young children have not previously been exposed to the virus.

“For this reason, we are likely to see cases of bronchiolitis in slightly older children than in previous years.

He added: “It’s important to know that in most cases a child will only suffer mild symptoms and can be cared for at home. The key is knowing what to look for and taking action early by seeking advice and help from your pharmacy or GP if needed.

“It is also important if your child is unwell to keep them at home to help reduce transmission to others, like the elderly, who may be vulnerable in the community.”

The awareness drive comes as UHS launches its #dontgoviral campaign, aimed at reducing transmission of viruses like RSV as well as Covid-19, flu and other infectious illnesses this winter.

Dr Freya Pearson, deputy chief medical officer at UHS, said: “As a Trust we have planned, and are prepared, for the real possibility of higher than usual numbers of children who have contracted respiratory viruses and need our care throughout the autumn and winter months.

“This is on top of the winter pressures that we are used to facing, placing extra demand on our services with the onset of colder weather and the arrival of flu season.

“Reducing transmission of this virus, and others like Covid-19, flu and norovirus are a priority for University Hospital Southampton, in order to protect our patients and staff and the capability and labour-force required to keep our services running.

“That’s why we are launching our #Don’tGoViral awareness drive and asking the community to support us by taking responsible steps to help stop the spread of winter illnesses. We are urging people to continue to wash hands regularly and when visiting our hospital for appointments to continue to wear a face covering, use sanitiser stations regularly and walk apart whenever possible.”

Ashley Pugh, Health Visitor and Practice Teacher in North Hampshire for Southern Health NHS Trust, said: “As a Health Visitor in Hampshire, I have noticed a rise in the number of enquiries we are receiving through our confidential text line, ChatHealth. Our main advice would be that if you are worried about your child catching RSV, speak to your GP, Pharmacist or 111 in the first instance. Our teams are all trained to advise and spot any signs of RSV when visiting or speaking to the families at regular contacts or through the support channels.”

For more information about RSV, including signs and symptoms to look out for, visit the Healthier Together website.