Protect your family from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu and winter viruses
Colds, coughs and viral infections in children
18th November 2022: GPs and Hospitals across Ireland continue to see a rise in the numbers of young children affected by respiratory symptoms and viruses. Last week saw the highest number of cases of RSV the country has ever recorded in one week.
Dr Lois O’Connor, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, HSE Public Health Area A, has the following advice for families:
“Given the current concerning RSV numbers, we all have a particular part to play in protecting newborn and small babies who are most affected. The best way we can protect ourselves and our family members from RSV, common colds, and other winter viruses is to reduce the chance of infection and spread.”
Dr O’Connor advises that there are 7 key ways to help prevent the spread of viruses:
- If you or your child are unwell with cold symptoms, do not attend places with young children and babies, such as child care facilities and school.
- Parents of young babies do need to take extra care and be clear about shielding babies from coughs and colds. This may mean putting friends and family off from visiting for a while if someone is unwell, not encouraging people to touch your baby’s face, and asking people to wear a mask around your baby can also help.
- Clean your hands and your child’s often – ask anyone in contact with your child to clean their hands first.
- Encouraging respiratory hygiene around babies and links to babies. Respiratory hygiene is vital to prevent the spread of respiratory infections: – Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. – Use tissues and throw them away. – Wash your hands after touching your mouth or nose. It is important to teach your child how to do this if they are old enough.
- Continue breastfeeding as this may prevent babies from getting a respiratory illnesses, including bronchiolitis caused by RSV. This is because babies get special proteins called antibodies from breastmilk. Antibodies can protect your child from infection.
- Keep children away from smoking.
- To protect your children and those around them from flu, I strongly encourage all parents of children aged 2 to 17 to get your children vaccinated against flu. The free Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine is available at your local GP or pharmacy. For more information about the children’s flu vaccines, visit: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/flu/childrens-flu-vaccine/.”
Dr O’Connor explains why we are seeing such a steep rise in respiratory infections this winter:
“We expect to see more children with respiratory virus infections this year when compared to last year because this year children are in more contact with one another and therefore the risk of spreading of winter respiratory viruses is increased. In addition, because children had limited contact with one another last year their exposure to all respiratory viruses and resultant immune response was reduced. As a result more children will have lower immunity to these viruses this year.”
“The good news is that most cases of respiratory virus infections are mild and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks without treatment. Antibiotics are not needed and will not help to treat a viral infection. There is lots of great advice on how to look after yourself and your family when you’re sick or have a high temperature on www.undertheweather.ie and www.mychild.ie. However, we advise parents to always contact their GP if they are worried, especially if a child’s symptoms get worse quickly or if the symptoms and fever persist despite the use of paracetamol and Ibuprofen”.
About RSV (Bronchiolitis)
RSV causes Bronchiolitis, which is a common chest infection in babies and young children. This virus spreads when someone coughs or sneezes and it mostly affects babies and young children under 2 years old, especially babies under 6 months old. Most cases are mild and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks without treatment. Antibiotics are not needed and will not help to treat it.
Main ways to assist babies with bronchiolitis:
- Keep breastfeeding if you are breastfeeding
- Don’t smoke around them
- Feed little and often as able
- Know signs and symptoms and when to present to GP/ED.
Sometimes, RSV can be more serious and children with bronchiolitis will need to be cared for in hospital. Parents are advised to trust their instinct, and to always contact their GP if they are worried, especially if the symptoms get worse quickly.
More information and advice can be found at: www.hse.ie/conditions/bronchiolitis.