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Health News - Contagious virus threatening children's health this Christmas - signs to look out for and how to prevent it

Posted on 14/12/2018 by

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RSV is a common infection but medical bosses are telling parents to learn to prevent it so your Christmas is not ruined.

A highly contagious virus which affects young children is spreading in the UK after a reported a rise in the number of cases.

Parents have been advised to learn how to spot the symptoms of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and how to respond to an outbreak.

Babies and toddlers are most prone to catching the infection which can be spread by coughs, sneezes or even touching a contaminated toy.

Although the virus is very common and usually poses only minor health problems it risks more serious longer term illnesses such as bronchiolitis.

Medical bosses have issued the warning after Hull NHS Trust saw a rise in the number of admissions to their hospitals this month.

Vanessa Brown, senior matron at HRI, said: "We start seeing more and more cases of RSV at this time of the year and we are already seeing an increase in admissions of very young children.

"While the vast majority of children will only experience unpleasant symptoms for a few days, RSV can be more serious for those with existing health conditions, the very young or those who were born prematurely.

"Parents can help prevent their child catching RSV in the first place by taking a few simple steps and recognising the symptoms can help you cope with what can be an anxious time.

"While antibiotics won’t help your child, there are steps you can take to make them more comfortable and help them recover well within days."

What is RSV?

It is a common virus which most children will have suffered before they turn two. It can lead to bronchiolitis in babies and younger children, although it normally only causes a cough or cold in older children and adults.

Outbreaks usually occur in the Christmas period due to the cold weather.

How can my baby catch RSV?

The virus is usually caught by breathing in contaminated water droplets in the air which have been released by an infected person's coughs and sneezes.

Those droplets can also land on surfaces such as toys and survive for 24 hours, meaning they can be passed on to a child’s hand. If they rub their eyes, nose or touch their mouth, they can be infected.

How does it make you ill?

RSV is a respiratory infection which enters the system through the windpipe. It then works its way into the lungs and causes swelling.

More mucus is produced which can lead to the airways becoming blocked, making breathing difficult for children who already have smaller airways.

Does anything increase my child’s chances of bronchiolitis?

Yes. Children who are bottlefed or have been breastfed for less than two months are more likely to develop bronchiolitis if they catch RSV.

They’re also more likely to develop it if their parents smoke or they have been exposed to smoke, if they attend nursery or have older brothers or sisters who attend nursery and so have more chance of coming into contact with the virus.

Children who are under eight weeks old, have congenital heart disease, were premature or have chronic lung disease of prematurity are at increased risk of developing more severe bronchiolitis.

Looking after your child at home

As it’s a virus, antibiotics won’t help your child. However, you can help ease milder symptoms and avoid spreading the virus to other children by keeping them at home and away from nursery or day care.

Check on them regularly throughout the night and keep them upright to make their breathing easier. Give them smaller feeds more regularly.

Don’t make your home too hot as it can dry out the air and use a dehumidifier if you have one to keep the air moist.

Ensure your child is kept away from cigarette smoke and, if they are old enough, give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce high temperatures.

How do I know if it’s serious?

Most children only have mild symptoms and recover within two to three weeks. However, some signs such as breathing difficulties can indicate more serious problems.

Early signs of bronchiolitis are similar to a cold, such as a blocked or runny nose, a cough and a slight fever. However, they can develop over the next few days to include a rasping or persistent dry cough, rapid breathing or wheezing, brief pauses in breathing, reduced feeding and fewer wet nappies, vomiting after feeds and irritability.

Symptoms peak between day three and five before improving although the cough can last for three weeks.

When should I seek help?

See your GP if your child has taken less than half of their normal feed during the last two to three feeds, hasn’t had a wet nappy for 12 hours or more and is breathing very fast. If they seem very tired or irritable and have a persistent high temperature of 38 degrees or above, contact your GP.

You need to call 999 if your child has difficulty breathing or suffers exhaustion from the efforts of trying to breathe.

You’ll recognise this if the muscles under their rubs are sucking in with each breath, they grunt from the effort or they become pale and sweaty.

You also need an ambulance if you can’t wake your child or they can’t stay awake, their breathing stops for a long time or their skin turns very pale or blue or the inside of their lips and tongue are blue.

Source: Chronicle Live