Parents have been urged to learn the symptoms of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), with a major report fearing more than 12,000 babies could be hospitalized with the ‘unpredictable’ virus by 2023.
Babies younger than six months were found to be the highest risk group.
A major report from health consultancy Evohealth found that respiratory disease – which can quickly progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia – was the leading reason for hospitalization of children under five.
RSV caused 15,864 hospitalizations in children under five last winter, with one in four causes requiring intensive care.
Katja Schwarz (pictured with Phoenix) was forced to admit her seven-year-old son Phoenix to the emergency room when he contracted respiratory syncytial virus
Earlier this year, Sydney mother Katja Schwarz took her seven-week-old son Phoenix to hospital after his breathing became labored.
She said the hospital measured his oxygen level and saw it drop as she fed him.
That has caused a lot of concern,” she told Nine News on Sunday evening.
“At that point, we spent about 11 hours in distress.”
Ms Schwarz warned other parents to be vigilant if their young children show cold or flu symptoms that could be the first stages of respiratory syncytial virus.
“Seek medical advice, whether that’s your GP or just going straight to the emergency room,” she said.
The founder of the Immunization Foundation of Australia, Catherine Hughes, said the virus is “unpredictable and can be very serious.” There is also no vaccine to prevent RSV or reduce its effects.
“It’s important for health care providers to know the signs that may indicate serious illness, trust their gut, and seek medical attention when needed,” she said.
About a quarter of young children hospitalized with RSV require emergency care
“We all hope to prevent a repeat of last year’s record number of hospitalizations due to RSV.”
The first symptoms are a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, loss of appetite, lethargy and irritability, but it can progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
Parents are warned to seek medical attention if serious symptoms such as high fever, shortness of breath or increased effort to breathe occur.
Signs that the virus has progressed to bronchiolitis or pneumonia may also include wheezing, dilated nostrils, growling when breathing, rapid breathing (more than 40 breaths per minute), a blue tint to the child’s skin around the mouth, and eyes, or labored breathing.
Today’s presenter, Karl Stefanovic, and his wife, fashion designer, Jasmine Stanovic recently shared their fear with RSV, when their daughter Harper was two.
Ms Stefanovic, who has teamed up with Evohealth to share their experience, says what started as a cold quickly turned into breathing problems.
“Initially, Harper was sniffling and coughing, and we assumed she just had a bit of a cold. But within hours she deteriorated,” she said.
“It was unsettling to see how hard she was working to breathe, with her little ribs sucking in and pulling her belly up into her chest.”
After seeing advice from a GP, Harper was rushed to hospital.
“It was a long night as we sat next to Harper in the hospital ward and tried to comfort her while a medical team tried to help her breathe,” she said.
“It’s been almost a year since our horrible experience with RSV, and Harper is still wheezing. Doctors have explained that RSV can have a range of long-term health effects.
“We’ll keep a close eye on her this winter.”
Karl Stefanovic (pictured center with wife Jasmine Stefanovic and daughter Harper) is concerned about the long-term effects of RSV
The Evohealth report found that the virus cost the Australian healthcare system nearly $200 million, with each baby hospitalization costing $12,000.
The report called for a national awareness campaign and surveillance program to measure the spread of the virus.
Evohealth’s general manager, Renae Beardmore, said the burden of RSV was enormous.
“This is a virus that often went undiagnosed due to a lack of awareness, monitoring and reporting, which has changed recently,” she said.
“As we begin to understand the magnitude of RSV in Australia, it is time to take action to reduce the burden of the virus on children, parents and hospitals.”