Katherine Kieran feared her newborn baby, Hazel, would die as a result of contracting respiratory syncytial virus — so she is now warning other parents to protect their families from the common illness.
The number of RSV cases — which puts about 12,000 babies in hospital each year — is already more than seven times higher than this time last year in some states.
WATCH VIDEO ABOVE: Parents warned about common virus that can be serious for children
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Kieran said Hazel, then just 10 weeks old, seemed to have a simple cold but her symptoms quickly escalated to the point her lungs collapsed and she had to be intubated for eight days at a Perth hospital.
“Her stats just dropped, so they had to start CPR, give her adrenaline and get the defibrillator ready … so we knew right then it was extremely serious,” she said.
“I really thought she might die at that stage.
“They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her for quite a while, so that was quite worrying. She needed MRIs and ECGs and X-rays and blood transfusions.”
Doctors later told the family Hazel, who is now three years old, had contracted RSV, which can be serious in young infants because it restricts their breathing.
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What is RSV?
RSV is a highly contagious but common respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, headache, cough and wheezing.
This year, there have been 74,604 confirmed cases of the virus Australia-wide, according to the federal government’s disease surveillance dashboard.
Last year, there were a total of 95,776 confirmed infections across the entire year.
In some states, RSV cases are more than seven times higher compared with the same time last year, and the rate of infection is highest in children aged 0 to 4 years old.
South Australia reported 3,926 cases of RSV in the first half of the year, compared with 539 cases over the same period of time last year
University of South Australia epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman said about 1 per cent to 2 per cent of children who fall sick with RSV are hospitalised.
“In young children it can give them pneumonia or bronchiolitis, which is an inflammation of the little airways,” he said.
Esterman said the higher number of infections this year is probably because the RSV season, which usually starts in autumn, started much earlier.
“I think the numbers this year will start dropping off … so I think (in total) we’ll end up with the same numbers as last year,” he said.
He also pointed out people had stopped following public health advice on social distancing, sanitising and wearing masks to protect themselves against COVID-19, making it easier for viruses to spread.
Protection against RSV
Last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration gave the green light to a newly approved nasal swab to diagnose COVID-19, influenza and RSV within 15 minutes, but the tests are not widely available over the counter yet.
Dr Michael Mrozinski said it was difficult for parents to tell the difference between the common cold and RSV, unless a swab test was done.
He advised parents if their children are sick and younger than two years old, and show no signs of improving three to four days after cold or flu symptoms started, they should see a doctor.
“The things we’re looking for as doctors … is we want to see how hard your child is having to work to breathe,” he said.
“Count how many breaths they’re having in a minute, and if that’s over 40 or 50, then they’re working pretty hard.
“They sometimes also use their muscles around their chest to get a big deep breath and that means they’re working quite hard.
“How you would see that is the muscles in between the ribs are drawn in when they take a breath, or (they can be) using their shoulders to get their chest as big as they can.”
Mrozinski warned blue-tinged lips were also an indicator of low oxygen, and parents should take children to the doctor.
There are a number of vaccines against RSV that Esterman predicts will become available in Australia soon.
The Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane is currently conducting trials to produce an RSV vaccine for premature babies that would only require one dose, while the current available vaccine required five separate jabs.
Esterman said an RSV vaccine for people 60 years and older has also been approved for use in the US and would likely be available in Australia late this year or early 2024.
Another vaccine to protect pregnant women and their babies for up to six months is currently going through clinical trials in 18 countries, including Australia, he said.
“Pfizer, who make it, said they’re likely to ask for approval end of this year in America and that means hopefully we’ll have it next year in Australia,” Esterman said.
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