Katherine Kieran feared her newborn baby Hazel would die as a result of contracting respiratory syncytial virus – so she’s now warning other parents to protect their families from the common disease.

The number of RSV cases — which send about 12,000 babies to the hospital each year — in some states is already more than seven times higher than this time last year.

Watch the video above: Parents warned about common viruses that can be dangerous for children

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Kieran said Hazel, then just 10 weeks old, appeared to have had a simple cold, but her symptoms quickly escalated to the point where her lungs collapsed and she had to be intubated at a Perth hospital for eight days.

“Their numbers just went down, so they had to start CPR, do their adrenaline and have the defibrillator ready… so we knew right away it was extremely serious,” she said.

“I really thought that at that point she might die.

“They couldn’t figure out what was going on with her for quite a while, so that was pretty worrying. She needed MRIs and EKGs as well as X-rays and blood transfusions.”

Hazel Kieran was hospitalized with RSV. Credit: 7NEWS

Doctors later told the family that Hazel, now three years old, had contracted RSV, which can be serious in small babies because it restricts breathing.

What is RSV?

RSV is a highly contagious but widespread respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, headache, cough, and wheezing.

There have been 74,604 confirmed cases of the virus across Australia this year, according to the federal government’s Disease Surveillance Dashboard.

Last year there were a total of 95,776 confirmed infections in the full year.

In some states, RSV cases are more than seven times higher than the same period last year, and the infection rate is highest in children ages 0 to 4 years.

South Australia reported 3,926 RSV cases in the first half of the year, compared with 539 cases in the same period last year

Epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman of the University of South Australia said about 1 to 2 percent of children who get RSV are hospitalized.

“In young children, they can develop pneumonia, or bronchiolitis, which is an inflammation of the small airways,” he said.

Esterman said the higher number of infections this year was likely due to the RSV season, which normally begins in the fall, starting much earlier.

“I think the numbers are going to go down slowly this year… so I think we’re going to end up with the same numbers (overall) as last year,” he said.

He also pointed out that people have stopped following public health advice on social distancing, disinfecting and wearing masks to protect against COVID-19, which encourages the spread of the virus.

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 in 15 minutes, but the tests are not yet widely available over the counter.

dr Michael Mrozinski said it was difficult for parents to tell the difference between the common cold and RSV unless a swab test had been performed.

He advised parents to see a doctor if their children are sick and under the age of two and show no signs of improvement three to four days after cold or flu symptoms started.

“What we’re looking for as doctors is that we want to see how hard your child is having to strain to breathe,” he said.

“Count how many breaths they take in a minute and if that’s more than 40 or 50, then they’re working pretty hard.

“Sometimes they also use their pecs to take deep breaths, and that means they’re working pretty hard.

“As you can see, the muscles between the ribs are contracted when they breathe in, or (they can be) using their shoulders to make their chest as big as possible.”

Professor Adrian Esterman said the RSV season started earlier this year. Credit: 7NEWS

Mrozinski warned that blue-stained lips are also an indicator of lack of oxygen and parents should take their children to the doctor.

There are a number of vaccines against RSV that Esterman predicts will soon be available in Australia.

The Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane is currently conducting trials to produce an RSV vaccine for preterm infants that would only require one dose, while the currently available vaccine required five separate shots.

Esterman said an RSV vaccine for people aged 60 and over has also been approved for use in the US and is expected to be available in Australia late this year or early 2024.

Another vaccine, designed to protect pregnant women and their babies for up to six months, is now undergoing clinical trials in 18 countries including Australia, he said.

“Pfizer, which makes it, said they expect to file for approval in America later this year, and that means hopefully we’ll have it in Australia next year,” Esterman said.

An artist in Barcelona has installed colorful urinals across the city to protest odor where walls are used as public toilets.

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