RSV spikes in Queensland prompting warning for ECEC services from health department
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in Far North Queensland have been asked to be on the alert for cases of a serious respiratory illness after 378 confirmed cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) have been detected since 1 January, compared with 88 for the whole of 2019 and 70 in 2020.
The spike in cases follows a recent warning from authorities about a rise in hand, foot and mouth disease, another illness easily spread in ECEC services, and has left health authorities “questioning whether lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic have fallen by the wayside”.
More than 70 per cent of the confirmed RSV cases have been in children under 10 years of age. The virus generally causes a minor cold-like illness in older children and adults, but in younger children it’s a common cause of bronchiolitis.
Dr Neil Archer, Cairns Hospital clinical director of paediatrics, said it’s particularly serious for babies under three months of age or in children who have other medical issues.
Symptoms include a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, and headache. In infants, the above symptoms may be present along with not feeding as well, or breathing more quickly or with more effort.
Someone who has RSV is normally infectious from when they start to show symptoms to 7-10 days after symptoms develop.
ECEC services “have been singled out as the main place of transmission,” with good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette important measures to prevent the spread, Dr Archer said, including 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.
Parents should be especially mindful of not sending children to ECEC services if they are unwell, to reduce the risk of further transmission.
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.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
In genuine emergencies, he encouraged people to come to the ED, but for non urgent medical issues, he encouraged ill people to call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or see a local GP.