Health staff in Northern Ireland are bracing for a spike in referrals after a rise in respiratory illnesses linked to the effects of the pandemic.
Viruses such as RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) are growing because of immune deficiencies in babies and children who have had little contact with bacteria and viruses outside of their own homes.
Belfast respiratory virus expert, Dr Lindsey Broadbent, took to Twitter to share her concerns.
She said: “The increase in hospital Covid admissions is bad, it would be a lot worse without vaccines. But with social distancing gone, other bugs are getting a chance to spread. Which means we’re going to see hospitals stretched with Covid, RSV, flu.
“This doesn’t just impact respiratory/infectious disease wards. This has an impact on most other health services. RSV season (winter) has a huge impact on paediatric care and often results in many surgeries being cancelled.
In relation to UK and EU-wide figures, Dr Broadbent added: “We are now seeing a huge increase in RSV cases.
“To add, this isn’t about ‘another lockdown’. This is about understanding how the impacts of Covid are wide reaching. There are knock-on effects to consider. Just spare a thought for healthcare workers who are still having a pretty tough time.”
Some Trusts in Northern Ireland say they have not witnessed a spike in RSV cases as yet but that they have seen the number of general respiratory conditions rise.
A spokesperson for the South Eastern Trust told us: “We are seeing a rise in children’s respiratory illness that we wouldn’t necessarily expect at this time of year.
“Generally Croup does not require admission to hospital and can be successfully managed in ED or at home.”
In relation to RSV, they added that they are “not seeing a huge increase specifically in RSV cases at present” but “more general respiratory symptoms”.
The Southern Trust said it too has seen “an increase in children presenting with respiratory symptoms but to date no significant rise in RSV cases” while the Northern Trust said it has “no increase in RSV at present”.
What is RSV?
The Public Health Agency told us that Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.
In adults and older, healthy children, RSV symptoms are generally mild and typically mimic the common cold. Self-care measures are usually all that’s needed to relieve any discomfort.
Signs and symptoms of RSV infection most commonly appear about four to six days after exposure to the virus. In adults and older children, RSV usually causes mild cold-like signs and symptoms.
These may include:
· Congested or runny nose
· Dry cough
· Low-grade fever
· Sore throat
However, RSV can cause severe infection in some people, including babies and infants, especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system.
Symptoms and severity of illness will vary from person to person. Seek immediate medical attention if your child — or anyone at risk of severe RSV infection — has difficulty breathing, a high fever, or a blue colour to the skin, particularly on the lips and in the nail beds.
With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks and more people mixing than ever before it is possible that we will see an increase in RSV infections and other viruses.
It is therefore important for everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms, take steps to protect themselves and to continue to follow the public heath advice in relation to Covid-19 as this will help reduce the spread of other illnesses also.
These lifestyle habits can help prevent the spread of respiratory infection and have become second nature to us all during the Covid-19 pandemic:
· Wash your hands frequently.
· Avoid exposure. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of used tissues immediately and wash your hands. Limit your contact with people who have fevers or colds.
· Keep things clean. Make sure kitchen and bathroom countertops, doorknobs, and handles are clean.
· Don’t share drinking glasses with others. Use your own glass or disposable cups when you or someone else is sick. Label each person’s cup.
Also, if you have children or care for young children:
· Don’t smoke. Babies who are exposed to tobacco smoke have a higher risk of getting RSV and potentially more-severe symptoms. If you do smoke, never do so inside the house or car.
· Wash toys regularly. Do this especially when your child or a playmate is sick.
For information on COVID-19 symptoms and advice see www.pha.site/coronavirus.
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