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‘Unpredictable’ virus sending kids to hospital

Sick baby boy applying inhale medication by inhalation mask to cure Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) on patient bed at hospital.
Found to be the leading cause of hospitalisation in children under five, parents have been warned to be on the look out for the symptoms of the fast-moving virus. Picture: iStock

Parents have been urged to learn the symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), with a major report fearing more than 12,000 babies could be hospitalised with the “unpredictable” virus in 2023.

Infants less than six months of age were found to be the most at-risk group.

A major report from health advisory firm, Evohealth found the respiratory illness – which can quickly progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia – was the leading reason for hospitalisation of children under five.

RSV caused 15,864 hospitalisation children under five every, with one-in-four causes requiring intensive care.

Sick baby boy applying inhale medication by inhalation mask to cure Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) on patient bed at hospital.
A recent report found RSV to be the leading cause of hospitalisations in children under the age of five.

Immunisation Foundation of Australia founder Catherine Hughes said the virus was “unpredictable and can be very serious”. There is also no vaccine to prevent RSV, or reduce its effects.

“It’s important that caregivers know the signs that may indicate severe disease, trust their gut, and seek medical attention when it’s needed,” she said.

“We are all hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s record number of hospital admissions due to RSV.”

Initial symptoms include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, loss of appetite, lethargy and irritability, however it can progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

Parents are warned to seek medical care if severe symptoms like a high fever, shortness of breath, or increased effort to breathe appear.

Signs that the virus has progressed to bronchiolitis or pneumonia can also include wheezing, fared nostrils, grunting while breathing, rapid breathing (more than 40 breaths per minute), a blue tint to the child’s skin around their mouth and eyes, or laboured breathing.

Today host, Karl Stefanovic and his fashion designer wife, Jasmine Stanovic recently shared their scare with RSV, when their daughter Harper was two.

Ms Stefanovic, who has partnered with Evohealth to share their experiences, says what started as a cold, quickly turned into breathing issues.

“Initially, Harper had the sniffles and a cough, and we assumed she just had a bit of a cold. But within hours, she deteriorated,” she said.

“It was alarming to see how hard she was working to breathe, with her little ribs sucking in and tummy pulling up into her chest”.

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Karl and Jasmine Stefanovic rushed baby Harper to hospital after her condition quickly deteriorated. Picture: Instagram

After seeing advice from a GP, Harper was rushed to hospital.

“It was a long night as we sat in the hospital ward beside Harper, trying to comfort her as a medical team worked to help her breathe,” she said.

“It’s been almost a year since our awful experience with RSV, and Harper still has a lingering wheeze. Doctors have explained that RSV can have a range of long-term health effects.

“We’ll be keeping a close eye on her this winter.”

The Evohealth report found the virus to be a nearly $200m on Australia’s healthcare system, with each infant hospitalisation costing $12,000.

The report called on a national awareness campaign and surveillance program to measure the spread of the virus.

Evohealth’s managing director, Renae Beardmore said the burden of RSV was huge.

“This is a virus that often went undiagnosed due to lack of awareness, monitoring and reporting, which has recently changed,” she said.

“Now that we are starting to understand the scale of the RSV in Australia, it’s time to act to reduce the burden of the virus on children, parents and hospitals.”