Updated: Jun 1
Over the past two years, preventive measures for COVID-19, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and isolation, helped stop the spread of other viral infections - the most common of these being RSV (Respiratory Syncytial virus) and Rhinovirus (common cold).
In the last two years, there were very few instances of children being unwell with RSV or Bronchiolitis. However, we are now seeing children who have never been introduced to these viruses and who seem to be getting sick all the time. We are seeing a huge number of infants, both in the community and in hospitals with bronchiolitis.
As a parent or carer, it is not important which virus is causing your infant to have breathing difficulties, but it is important to know what to look out for and when to seek help.
What is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)?
Although it is certainly hard to pronounce 'Respiratory Syncytial Virus, it is important to be aware of the condition.
- RSV- Respiratory Syncytial Virus is the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in infants and young children.
- RSV can affect people of all ages and is usually a mild disease, but it can also cause serious illnesses such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, particularly under 12 months of age.
- Most kids <2 yrs old will be infected with RSV at some stage.
- Once a child has had RSV, they are not protected against getting it again - you can get infected over and over.
Cold-like symptoms usually occur first and then breathing difficulties may follow. Other RSV symptoms include:
- Runny or blocked nose
- Coughing (worse over first 4-5 days)
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
- May progress to bronchiolitis.
What is bronchiolitis?
- Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the lungs and small airways in children younger than 12 months old.
- The most common virus responsible is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) however, other conditions such as Rhinovirus can also cause the condition.
- Babies are usually sick for 7-10 days and can be worst on days 3-5.
- Fast breathing
- Noisy breathing, sounding wheezy
- Increased effort of breathing
- Irritability and fever
- Difficulties eating and drinking – your infant may get dehydrated.
When to see a Doctor about bronchiolitis?
- Any baby younger than 3 months of age who has a fever or is unwell
- If your baby is having trouble breathing
- If your baby isn’t feeding or drinking normally – fewer wet nappies
- If your baby is changing colour in the face when they cough
- If your baby is pale and sweaty
- If you are worried.
Call an ambulance immediately if your baby is struggling to breathe or if their lips start to turn blue.
- Your baby will need rest.
- No specific medicines are used to treat bronchiolitis, although your baby may need paracetamol or ibuprofen if they are miserable with a fever and >3 months old.
- Antibiotics don’t help (as it is a virus - antibiotics treat bacteria).
- Saline nasal drops or sprays may help clear the nasal passages of mucus which will help your baby breathe more easily.
- Your baby may need oxygen - this is given in the hospital.
- Your baby may need help with drinking and feeding - giving small amounts of feed/drink more often can help.
- If in the hospital, your baby may need help with feeding via a drip and fluids or through a nasogastric tube.
Dr Lexi is an experienced general paediatrician specialising in the care of children (and their families) from birth-eighteen who experience a wide range of acute and chronic medical conditions (or clinical conditions). She is also a passionate educator and mother of 3.
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Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare professionals. Moreover, the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers or other official organisations.