NHS Sussex calls on parents to know the signs and symptoms of RSV

The NHS in Sussex is encouraging parents and caregivers to look out for symptoms of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in young children, as cases are expected to increase over winter months.
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RSV is often prevalent amongst young people during this time of year, and spreads easily via coughs and sneezes. Almost all children have had it by the time they are two-years old. In older children and adults, RSV may cause a cough or cold, but in young children it can cause bronchiolitis.

If the virus does cause bronchiolitis – a lower respiratory tract infection that in some cases can prove severe, especially for those under the age of two – it is best to know the signs and symptoms, and when you should seek further advice.

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Children infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days after getting infected. Symptoms include:

Theo from Cooksbridge, East SussexTheo from Cooksbridge, East Sussex
Theo from Cooksbridge, East Sussex
  • A runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

These symptoms usually appear in stages, and not all at once. In very young infants with the virus, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday and most cases will clear up within a week or two.

Call your GP practice or NHS 111 if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.

Theo was just nine months old when he was diagnosed with bronchiolitis. Mum Helen, from Cooksbridge in East Sussex, recalled:

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“Theo became very unwell over a few hours with cold like symptoms, including a cough and an all over body rash.

“We took him to the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton where he was checked. We were told he had RSV and the rash was also a symptom of this and to keep an eye on him and come back if the symptoms worsened.”

“The next day, Theo’s rash was no better, and his cough sounded worse, with wheezing and a hoarse bark. We returned to The Alex where he was diagnosed with bronchiolitis. He was kept in for monitoring overnight. The next day the rash subsided and he was well enough to eat some toast. He was discharged later that morning, and was back to his usual self a day or so later.

“Coughs, colds and rashes are all a normal part of childhood - but if your child loses any spark, has an unusual cough or becomes increasingly unwell it is worth getting them checked.”

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NHS Sussex clinical lead and paediatric respiratory nurse, Edwina Wooler said: “Bronchiolitis presents mainly in children under the age of two, and often seems just like an ordinary common cold. They might find it a little more difficult to feed or eat. They might have a slight temperature. Symptoms usually resolve quickly within three to five days and can be managed at home just by giving your child some paracetamol or ibuprofen and offering smaller feeds more often.

“It's often helpful for your child or baby to sit up in between feeds which will help them breathe. Sometimes saline nose drops can help too. There are other things that you can do at home to help your child. Things like making sure that you're washing your hands regularly, keeping utensils and work tops clean.

“The time that you need to worry about your child is if they're having real difficulty in breathing, if you can't get their temperature down, or of course if they've got any blue tinge to their lips or any grunting noises when they're breathing, or any pauses when they're breathing. In that situation, your child needs to be seen urgently.”

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