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Parents warned of common virus explosion in young children

This respiratory virus is especially prominent in winter months where there can be dramatic increases in hospitalisations.

Parents are being warned of the long-term effects of the leading cause of respiratory hospital presentations in children under five, after a recent study revealed an "important" finding.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus with flu-like symptoms that's dramatically heightened during winter months and affects "80 to 90 per cent of children," according to UNSW respiratory epidemiologist Nusrat Homaira.

And while for the majority of young children it will be a temporary illness, "10 to 20 per cent of them will go on to develop asthma at a later stage at say four years, five years or seven years of age" if they first develop it in infancy.

A photo of a baby with an oxygen mask.
A recent US study has shows that children who first develop RSV within the first six months have increased odds of developing asthma. Source: Getty file image

"Their risk is actually two to four times higher than children who do not develop severe RSV disease," Dr Homaira told Yahoo News Australia.

RSV study reveals new discovery

A recent US study monitoring 1,946 children for a five-year period additionally found what can be done to reduce the risk of asthma in children.

"[The study] shows that if we can avoid RSV disease in the first six months of life, then you can actually reduce the risk of subsequent asthma in these children by 15%, which is a big number," Dr Homaira said.

"That's a very, very interesting and robust finding and is particularly important...We need to really think about it because it's not just about avoiding that episode of RSV, it's also about the subsequent asthma."

How parents should 'stay vigilant'

Australia has one of the highest asthma rates in the world, with around 2.7 million people having it in 2020 to 2021, according to the National Asthma Council Australia.

And while there are "multiple RSV preventive therapies in the pipeline to protect infants in the first six months of their life, simple public health measures should also be applied.

"Covid has shown that simple public health measures, like washing your hands and having some sort of social distancing can help, as we know RSV is spread by hands," she said. "And if you have older children at home, avoid co-sleeping if one of them is unwell.

"I hope that parents don’t get scared — just be vigilant and watch out for the severe symptoms. And if your child suffers from those, please go and seek medical care. Hopefully those RSV therapies will become available for clinical use in Australia in the next one to two years."

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