The Chief Medical Officer has urged parents not to ask grandparents or older people to look after children with respiratory illnesses due to a record number of reported cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
Almost 650 cases of RSV were reported in Ireland in the past week — the highest number ever recorded in this country. The majority of cases are occurring in small children and older people while flu cases are also on the rise.
In a video message issued by the Department of Health, Professor Breda Smyth appealed to people to get their flu vaccine adding that while two-thirds of people who are over the age 65 have had their flu jab, the uptake needs to be higher.
"Let's play our part in reversing this trend and protecting those who are vulnerable. Get your flu jab if you haven't already. Currently two-thirds of adults aged 65 and older have had their flu jab. We need to get this higher."
In a follow-up on social media, Prof. Smyth said we have seen a record number of RSV cases in Ireland, the majority being small children and the elderly.
Meanwhile, Medical Director of Shannon Medical Centre, Dr Yvonne Williams, toldon RTÉ Radio 1 that RSV is a very common viral infection.
"Similar to flu and to Covid it is a virus, and it affects the nose, the throat, the lungs. It is really common. And we didn't see as much of it during Covid because of lockdowns and people wearing masks. So, we are having a spike now. Not just in Ireland but in other countries. So, we are seeing a big jump in the number of cases, this winter particularly."
The Clare-based medic said that most people who get it will not become very sick.
"It is mainly children who get it, and they don't get very sick at all. They might have a runny nose. A slight temperature. A bit of a cough. Some sneezing. And there is a small minority who will get quite sick with it. Particularly very young infants and older people.
"Older children can be unlucky, and we do see children in hospital every year with it and that is what we saw last week. We had nearly 300 cases where people got quite sick and ended up in hospital in recent times.
"We stopped wearing masks. People are probably a bit more casual with their hand hygiene. All the precautions we were taking with Covid lowered the incidences. Everyone is back in school, creche and work now and it is spreading more than it was before."
Dr Williams said children who have underlying health conditions are more at risk in terms of developing complications from RSV. Younger infants and babies can also get quite sick.
She added older adults may be confused, might have a low temperature or could feel breathless, weak or unwell.
"Almost all children will have had RSV by the age of two. But unfortunately, you can get it multiple times. With toddlers and younger kids, you are watching out to see if they are breathing fast, or if they are sucking in between their ribs or using their tummy muscles and breathing in and out.
"Very wheezy and really thrown down. Any child with breathing difficulties needs to be checked out."