Warning over rise of respiratory illnesses in young children

Public Health England in the East of England is encouraging parents to be aware of the signs of respiratory illnesses in young children as data shows cases are starting to rise in parts of the country.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 7:55 pm
Health news

Respiratory illnesses, including colds and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), are very common in young children and are seen every year.

Last winter, due to the various restrictions in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19, there were far fewer infections in younger people. This means many will not have developed immunity and so there may be more cases this year than in a typical season.

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

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RSV is a very common virus and almost all children are infected with it by the time they are two years old. In older children and adults, RSV may cause a cough or cold.

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 breath.

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 and rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within two to three 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.

Dr Victoria Matthews, consultant in health protection at Public Health England (East of England), said: “This winter, we expect levels of common seasonal illnesses such as cold and flu to increase in the East of England as people mix more and given that fewer people will have built up natural immunity during the pandemic.

“Children under two are at a particular risk of severe infections from common seasonal illnesses. If a child under two is suffering from a cold, keep a close eye on their symptoms and make sure to contact your doctor if they get a high temperature, become breathless or have difficulty feeding.

“It’s important that we carry on with good hygiene habits that we’ve become used to during the pandemic in order to protect ourselves and those around us.”

NHS England began planning for the potential rise in paediatric respiratory infections in April with paediatric units bringing forward their usual winter planning, escalation and emergency processes which will support an increased capacity in terms of beds, workforce and ward supplies.

As part of NHS preparedness and in response to summer case detections by PHE surveillance, the offer of the preventative medicine palivizumab has been brought forward from the usual October start date and the number of doses has been extended from five to seven.

It will also be offered to young children who are at the highest risk of risk of complications from RSV, reducing the risk of hospitalisation in those most vulnerable.

This follows advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

PHE has also extended its surveillance system to ensure early signals of respiratory illnesses are being reported from a sample of NHS trusts. This usually ends in May and resumes in October but will now continue into the summer months.