Emergency rooms across Australia have been flooded with children struggling to breathe and it’s not because of Covid.
Respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus and influenza, have been affecting children more often and in patterns not seen before.
According to Perth pediatrician Asha Bowen, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are experiencing a peak in RSV cases – something that would normally happen in June.
Emergency rooms across Australia have been flooded with children struggling to breathe – and it’s not because of COVID-19
Respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus and influenza, have affected children more often and in patterns not seen before
But during the pandemic, RSV surprisingly peaked nationally in January and February.
For RSV to peak in September and October, it gives hope that things are moving back to normal and toward the depths of winter — but it’s anyone’s guess whether that will actually happen, Dr. Bowen.
Gone are the days of regular peaks and troughs, and practitioners have noticed several changes in the way viruses behave.
Combine that with limited immunity, thanks to spending months indoors during the pandemic, and kids seem to be getting more of the viruses out there.
“Usually we see RSV and then influenza and then the other spring viruses like rhinovirus, metapneumovirus and others,” said Dr. Bowen.
“But there hasn’t been any usual pattern this year … they’re popping up any time now and maybe it’s because Covid has left them room.
“We found that COVID peaked nationally in January and February, and then the other viruses came.”
She said the increased number of respiratory illnesses in children meant an increase in hospital presentations and increased pressure on the system.
The increased number of respiratory diseases in children has meant an increase in hospital presentations and increased pressure on the system
Royal Australasian College of Physicians president and pediatrician Jacqueline Small said it had been a tough winter for everyone, but especially children.
“Now we’ve entered spring, we’re hoping for a reprieve from the amount of viruses circulating in the community,” she said.
‘We need to be vigilant and remember that we can always do more to protect ourselves and our children, such as keeping good hygiene and staying at home if you are sick.’
Associate Professor Deborah Friedman, Victoria’s deputy director of health, said high vaccination rates helped reduce flu infections in 2022.
She said the flu season was early, short and sharp in Victoria, but more cases could emerge later this year when holidaymakers return from overseas.
Influenza peaked in Victoria at around 18,000 cases in May and fell to 350 in August.
It was overtaken by the number of notified cases of RSV in mid-June.
RSV mostly affects younger children, with 42 percent of cases reported in 2022 being under the age of three.
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Associate Professor Deborah Friedman said high vaccination rates helped reduce flu infections in 2022. She said the flu season was early, short and sharp in Victoria, but more cases could emerge later this year when holidaymakers return from overseas.
The number of people presenting to emergency departments with respiratory diseases other than Covid-19 and asthma increased in the winter months, with children under the age of five making up an increased proportion.
Medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Monash Health, Professor Rhonda Stuart, said everyone was catching up on viruses they didn’t catch during the pandemic.
There was almost no influenza and very few other respiratory viruses in 2020 and 2021.
“It’s not necessarily immunity,” she said.
“These viruses often like to transmit in the winter because we’re all indoors and we don’t separate ourselves as much physically, and it’s much easier to transmit in the winter months.
“But when spring comes and the doors open and we have good ventilation and people are outside, respiratory viruses and COVID won’t transmit nearly as easily.”
The Department of Health and Aged Care said that COVID-19 testing was likely to have an effect on identifying the number of people with the respiratory virus, but it was unable to quantify these statistics as the data was de-identified.
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