Respiratory illness surging among FNQ children

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Paediatric clinicians are seeing a massive spike in respiratory illness among Far Northern children. Here is what you need to know to prevent the illness from spreading.

Parents are being urged to help prevent the spread of a serious respiratory illness that has been surging among Far Northern children.

The Cairns and Hinterland region has recorded a massive spike in Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases since the start of the year, in line with other regions across Australia.

There have been 378 confirmed cases of RSV in the region since January 1, compared to just 88 for the whole of 2019 and 70 during 2020.

More than 70 per cent of the total cases recorded in the region from January to the start of April this year have been in children under 10 years of age.

Cairns Hospital clinical director of paediatrics, Dr Neil Archer, said RSV was a common virus that generally caused a minor cold-like illness in older children and adults, but in younger children it was a common cause of bronchiolitis.

Dr Archer said although this was frequently a mild illness, it could cause severe respiratory illness, particularly in infants under 3 months or in children who already had a significant medical diagnosis.

He said there were particular increases in cases of RSV in settings such as childcare centres, as it was easy to transmit.

“The symptoms of RSV may include a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, and headache but in infants they also may not feed as well, breath more quickly or with more effort.” he said.

“A person with RSV is normally infectious from when they start to show symptoms to 7-10 days after symptoms develop,” he said.
He said good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette were important measures to prevent RSV.

“This includes washing hands regularly with soap and water after touching surfaces or after coughing or sneezing and covering the mouth and nose with an elbow when sneezing,” he said.

“People should already be doing these to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we saw how effective this was last year for other transmissible respiratory infections with the reduction in our RSV cases.

“It's particularly important not to send your child to day-care if they are unwell to protect the other children.”

Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Services executive director of medical services, Dr Don Mackie, said the RSV outbreaks had led to record amounts of presentations at the hospital’s Emergency Department in recent weeks.

“We have been seeing increases in presentations at our Emergency Department, right across the board, but RSV has certainly contributed to this,” he said.

“Since the start of January, we have had 182 RSV presentations to the ED, compared to just 33 for the whole of 2020 and 27 for the whole of 2019.

“We have been able to cope with the increased demand in the short term, but we are still asking for Far North Queenslanders to be mindful of the pressure on local health services.

“If you have an emergency, please come to the ED – that’s what it’s there for.

“But if you have a non-urgent medical issue, please consider calling 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or seeing your local GP.”