A South Australian mother is warning parents of young children about the dangers of a common virus that has sent her little boy to hospital.
Chantel Phelps said earlier this year that her son Leo White was infected with COVID-19 when he was four weeks old and a few weeks later became infected with respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV.
“He was raising and lowering his head and that’s how I could tell he was really having trouble breathing… it just went downhill really quickly,” she said.
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While COVID-19 reportedly causes less severe symptoms in children, RSV can be serious for babies and young children.
RSV is an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract that causes inflammation and difficulty breathing, which can be serious for babies because their airways are small.
Phelp said she went with Leo to a local GP in Murray Bridge, about an hour’s drive east of Adelaide, near where she lives.
She said after they saw Leo having difficulty breathing, the doctor advised them to go to the local hospital.
At the hospital, the family was told Leo needed to be flown to Adelaide for treatment.
“They called medSTAR (Air Ambulance) because it was so traumatic and there was no abundance nearby,” Phelps said.
“He’s just so small that his body can’t fight the virus on its own.”
But Leo was released even though he had not fully recovered from the illness, his mother said.
About a month later, the baby was hospitalized again for contracting rhinovirus and bronchiolitis.
Leo currently remains at Women’s and Children’s Hospital until doctors are satisfied he has fully recovered from both viruses, Phelps said.
She said many parents don’t know that RSV can look like a cold, but can be more serious in babies.
“It was quite confronting. We almost lost him the first time and are just going around in circles,” she said.
“I know it (RSV) is pretty bad in the Murray Bridge community but I don’t think people are taking it seriously, they probably just think it’s a common cold.
“It could cost your child’s life if he or she is less than six months old, and that’s what they told me here (at the hospital).”
According to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System, RSV cases in Australia so far this year have exceeded the total number of cases last year.
University of South Australia epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman said nationally there had been about a 30 per cent increase in cases this year compared to last year.
In South Australia, 10,808 cases of RSV have been reported as of October 6, 2023, while only 9537 cases were reported in 2022.
Phelps was told there have been many children hospitalized with RSV in Adelaide recently and some of these cases could be due to changes in the weather.
“This weather is just awful and it (RSV) is brewing right now, that’s why it’s so bad this year… it’s going from hot to cold,” Phelps said.
But Esterman said weather was less likely the reason and that the connection was more related to fewer public health restrictions since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In 2022, the (RSV) peaked in July, while this year it occurred in June,” he said.
“It is unclear whether the weather had an impact on the RSV season earlier this year. What is more likely is that COVID-related public health measures will be reduced this year, which would have prevented some cases in 2022, and that reduced RSV exposure in 2022 will reduce immunity this year.”
Dr. Louise Flood, SA Health’s head of communicable disease control, also recommended that parents with children under six months of age who had symptoms of coughing or wheezing should seek medical attention.
“If you have a child under six months old who has a respiratory illness, I encourage you to have your child checked,” she said.
Flood said a vaccine against RSV is expected in the next few years.
A GoFundMe was sent willing to financially support Leo’s family while he remains in Adelaide for treatment.