A paediatrician from North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust is encouraging parents and caregivers to look out for symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in young children after an out of season rise in the respiratory infection in young children. This is thought to be following low infection levels of RSV in response to COVID-19 restrictions and good infection control measures that have been in place.

Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever), a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

Paediatric Consultant, Olaniyi Kehinde for North Cumbria Integrated Care explained: 

“Respiratory illnesses, including colds and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are very common in young children and we see them every year. Nationally we are seeing a rising number of cases earlier in the year than we would expect and the picture in Cumbria is no different.

“With the lifting of the national lockdown restrictions, it is anticipated that the outbreak of RSV infection in children (especially those 1yr or less) this year will peak earlier than in previous years.

“The yearly outbreak of RSV infection in children usually begins in late autumn and will reach a peak in the winter months. Children born very early (premature), especially those who require breathing support due to immature lungs and those with congenital heart conditions, are particularly vulnerable. Whilst most children are expected to make full recovery from the illness, some will be seriously sick requiring support with breathing and possible admission to intensive care, especially those less than 6 months old.

“Here in Cumbria, we have started to see cases of RSV infection (specifically bronchiolitis) earlier than usual this year in line with the predicted national surge.

“In order to protect children in Cumbria, those who are particularly vulnerable have been identified using a set of nationally agreed criteria.”

“Our local RSV immunisation Programme this year will start earlier than usual (July instead of October) and continue till February 2022, which means that additional monthly doses will be given to ensure that vulnerable children are adequately protected throughout the RSV season.”

RSV is transmitted through droplets from a cough or sneeze, and touching infected persons or surfaces. Therefore, to reduce the risk of infection, parents and carers should avoid exposing children to persons with symptoms of ‘cold’, wash hands with soap and water before interacting with children and clean frequently touched surfaces.

Symptoms of RSV infection in children include temperature, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, laboured breathing, and reduced feeding. You should book an appointment to see your GP especially if your child has these symptoms suggestive of Bronchiolitis; wheezing, laboured breathing and reduced feeding. Your doctor will assess your child and decide if referral to the hospital paediatrician is necessary.

Dr Amanda Boardman, a GP Lead at NHS North Cumbria CCG, said: “Alongside our RSV Immunisation Programme, we can also help to protect children by being aware of the things that can increase the likelihood of them developing the infection. Children that haven’t been breastfed, or have been breastfed for less than two months, are at higher risk, as well as any children exposed to smoke, or having brothers or sisters who attend school or nursery that are more likely to come into contact with a virus and pass it on. As with most other infections, we can all help to avoid spreading it by washing our hands regularly, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.”

Dr Kehinde added: 

“For the majority of children, these illnesses will not be serious and they will soon recover following rest and plenty of fluids, but if you are worried please seek medical attention”  

Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:

  • you are worried about your child
  • your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last 2 or 3 feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more
  • your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above
  • your child seems very tired or irritable

Dial 999 for an ambulance if:

there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing