PARENTS must be on the look out for a potentially deadly but also common bug increasing among kids this winter, experts have warned.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a chest infection that affects babies and children under the age of two.
The bug usually only causes mild cold-like symptoms in children.
But in some cases, the virus can be deadly and can lead to pneumonia, bronchiolitis and asthma, in both children and adults who survive it, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), states.
Cases of the bug, which infects the lungs, have surged recently, especially among under-fives, the most recent data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) states.
Professor Francois Balloux, director at the UCL Genetics Institute, told Express.co.uk : "RSV is a leading cause of child hospitalisation and the virus kills more than 100,000 children each year globally.
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"That’s more than 50 times as many children than those who died from Covid throughout the pandemic.
"It’s a far bigger threat to young children than Covid or seasonal flu."
He added that RSV is highly contagious and the majority of children experience an RSV infection before the age of two.
It’s not obvious that its spread can be suppressed without enforcing highly disruptive measures, he said.
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Prof Balloux added: "There is hope RSV child hospitalisations and deaths will decrease in the future with new RSV vaccines being rolled out soon."
Cases of the virus in the UK are currently highest in children under the age of five, data from the UKHSA found.
The number of positive tests has increased by 9.2 per cent in the week ending November 13 and experts have warned people to stay away from little ones if they are feeling unwell.
The early symptoms of the illness are similar to a cold and include:
- A runny or blocked nose,
- A cough
- A high temperature
- Breathing more quickly
- Finding it difficult to eat or feed
- Noisy breathing
- Becoming irritable
Guidance states that symptoms are usually worst between days three and five of the bug, with the cough getting better in three weeks.
If you are worried about any of your child's symptoms then you should contact your GP.
In the event of an emergency, you should always contact 999.
RSV cases are higher than normal for this time of year, as are cases of other bugs, including flu.
That’s because Covid lockdowns, in which kids stayed at home, prevented RSV from circulating as it usually would.
In one report from the Academy of Medical Sciences, virus experts said the UK was heading for a "lethal triple mix of Covid-19, influenza, and the respiratory virus RSV" [this winter].
"This could push an already depleted NHS to breaking point this winter unless we act now," it added.
Dr Conall Watson, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA said RSV cases are continuing, which is typical for this time of year, especially in young kids.
"For children under 2, RSV can be severe – particularly for babies and those born prematurely. Use a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes and wash your hands afterwards to reduce the spread to the most vulnerable.
“Never smoke near a baby and avoid visiting babies if you are ill. If you are worried your child has cold symptoms with any unusual breathing or trouble feeding, please contact your GP or NHS 111.
"If your child seems seriously ill, trust your judgement and get emergency care," Dr Watson added.
There are currently no available treatments or a cure for RSV.
But after decades of stalled progress, pharma giant Pfizer announced last week that its new RSV vaccine is 82 per cent effective at preventing infants needing a hospital stay, offering hope to parents all over the world.
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Dr Chrissie Jones, a paediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Southampton, says the jab is “an absolute game-changer”.
She says: “If this vaccine is approved by regulatory agencies, it would have a substantial impact on admissions to hospitals for RSV disease.”
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