As Montana Shortland's son Griffin giggles and hiccups from his rocker, he looks like a healthy newborn baby.
Table of Contents
- RSV is one of about 200 viruses that can cause a cold, but can lead to life-threatening illnesses in infants and the elderly
- There have been more than 15,387 cases in Queensland so far this year
- Doctors say the combination of influenza, RSV and COVID-19 have created a "robust" and prolonged winter illness season
But a month ago, things looked very different. Ms Shortland thought Griffin "would not be coming home" after what seemed like a common cold saw him airlifted for specialist intensive care.
"I didn't sleep at all. I didn't eat," she said.
"I was so scared if I took my eyes off him for one second, he may be dead."
Now 10 weeks old, Griffin still has a lingering cough but has otherwise recovered from a serious bout of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
The virus is common among children. According to Queensland Health, most children will catch RSV at least once before they turn two.
The symptoms of RSV, COVID-19 and influenza (the flu) can all overlap and health officials are warning that this year's wave of winter respiratory illnesses may be the worst in several years.
Ms Shortland believes Griffin may have caught RSV from his 18-month-old brother Archer who attends day care.
She said Griffin, then six weeks old, went from having a runny nose one day to "gasping for air" the next.
He was admitted to Rockhampton Hospital where laboratory tests confirmed RSV.
"The ED doctor told me that if I hadn't brought him in when I did, I could very possibly have woken up with a baby that wasn't breathing the next morning," Ms Shortland said.
Data from Queensland Health reported 449 cases of RSV in central Queensland in the year to June 18, with 15,387 cases state-wide in the same period.
Young children and infants are susceptible to developing bronchiolitis from RSV, said Margaret Young from the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service's public health unit.
"They develop wheezing and can develop difficulty breathing," she said.
"Unlike influenza, where there is a community-wide funded program for influenza vaccine, the prevention of RSV is really through making sure that transmission is restricted."
A newly developed vaccine for RSV is yet to be approved in Australia.
Dr Young said the combination of influenza, RSV and COVID-19 created a "robust" and prolonged winter illness season.
But she said it was not too late in the season to get a flu vaccine and encouraged those at risk of complications to take advantage of subsidised immunisations.
Airlifted for critical care
Ms Shortland said Griffin was admitted to Rockhampton Hospital's paediatric ward and placed on high-flow oxygen and a feeding tube.
After three days in the hospital, Griffin was improving and plans were being made to take him home.
But that evening he rapidly deteriorated.
"There were about 10 doctors in there, there were nurses everywhere," Ms Shortland said.
"The decision was made that we would be flown to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital where he would be placed in critical care."
After another four days in intensive care, Ms Shortland was able to take Griffin home.
"We never imagined that a slight cold or a slight cough could have turned into something so serious," she said.
Complacency after COVID-19
With COVID-19 restrictions broadly eased over the past year, Michael Clements from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says people have become complacent.
"I think there's certainly complacency around COVID-19 … and then that has led into a complacency around normal viruses," he said.
"I guess we've had it good for the last few years because people have been respecting all of the viruses.
"We can see people are really just trying to get back into their normal activities and perhaps go back to some of our pre-COVID habits that did see the growth of the normal influenza and viral seasons."