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Rise in childhood respiratory infections in Wales ahead of winter

PUBLIC Health Wales is encouraging parents to be aware of the signs of respiratory illnesses in young children, as data shows cases are rising sharply.

Public Health Wales surveillance shows positive samples for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection in Wales have increased over the last four consecutive weeks from 1.9 per cent to 9.9 per cent.

Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever), a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

Respiratory infections in young children have begun to rise out-of-season, following low infection levels in response to Covid restrictions and good infection control measures that have been in place.

National director of health protection and screening services and executive medical director at Public Health Wales, Dr Meng Khaw, said: “Because of the Covid restrictions that the Welsh public have adhered to over the past winter, there were very few cases of RSV, but this virus is now returning as people are mixing more.

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“RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season, and causes very few problems to the majority of children. However, very young babies, particularly those born prematurely, and children with heart or lung conditions, can be seriously affected and it’s important that parents are aware of the actions to take.

“The best way to prevent RSV is to wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly, dispose of used tissues correctly, and to keep surfaces clean and sanitised.

“If you are worried about your child, call your GP or NHS 111, and if they have problems breathing then call 999 straight away.”

RSV is the most common respiratory virus in young children, and presents as an upper respiratory infection. In normal circumstances, most children will have had RSV by their third birthday.

Due to Covid restrictions, the number of children who have not been exposed to RSV within the current population is considerably higher than normal, raising the risks of more widespread infection as social distancing rules are relaxed.

For the majority of children, these illnesses will not be serious and they will soon recover following rest and plenty of fluids.

However, some children under two, especially those born prematurely or with a heart condition, can suffer more serious consequences from these common infections such as bronchiolitis, an inflammatory infection of the lower airways – which can make it hard to breathe.

The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold but can develop over a few days into a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever), a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:

• You are worried about your child.

• Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.

• Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.

• Your child seems very tired or irritable.

Dial 999 for an ambulance if:

• your baby is having difficulty breathing.

• your baby’s tongue or lips are blue.

• there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing.

While still at low numbers, respiratory infections in young children are expected to rise this summer and as we go into the winter months.

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