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What is RSV? Symptoms in babies present as Covid as parents warned of winter virus surge


A little-known disease called RSV with symptoms similar to a cold and elements easily mistaken for Covid puts thousands of UK kids in hospital each year – now warnings are being put out by the British Lung Foundation. Here’s what you need to know

The British Lung Foundation has warned of rising cases of RSV amongst young people
The British Lung Foundation has warned of rising cases of RSV among young people

RSV cases are seeing a spike after virtually falling off the radar during the Covid pandemic, with a charity now warning parents to be alert to the dangers of the disease.

The British Lung Foundation has warned cases could rebound despite low numbers at the end of 2021.

Similarly to Covid, while most cases involve mild symptoms, more severe examples can occur where medical treatment is required. In the past three months, 1,000 children have been admitted to hospital with the disease in England.

Research published by the British Medical Journal in 2016 from a 14-year study found that in the UK on average there were over 450,000 cases brought to GPs a year. Of these, more than 29,000 led to hospitalisations with 83 young people losing their lives to the disease.

They found that the highest proportion was among babies less than six months old.

What is the RSV illness?







The disease is known to be particularly prevalent among the very young
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RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Sirus and is a common condition known to cause cold-like symptoms. It is pronounced sin-sish-uhl.

Recovery tends to take a week or two, but there is scope for some cases to become serious, according to the CDC.

Among young children in the US it is the most common cause of other diseases, including pneumonia, an infection in the lungs, and bronchiolitis, which is an inflammation of the small airways in the lung.

People with RSV are usually infectious for between three and eight days.

How is RSV spread?

The CDC say the disease is transmissible in a number of ways. These include when:

  • An infected person coughs or sneezes
  • You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
  • You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV

What are the symptoms of RSV?

The CDC says that the early symptoms of RSV are:

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Cough, which may progress to wheezing

However, symptoms can become more severe a few days into the illness and in very young infants the symptoms can act differently compared to cases among older patients.

RSV symptoms in babies

While adults may not always show their symptoms, babies almost always do, the CDC says. Symptoms in babies are:

  • Irritability
  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Apnea (pauses while breathing)

In the USA, 58,000 children below the age of five are hospitalised with RSV per year.

The CDC lists those who are at the greatest risk of a bad infection of the disease, including:

  • Premature infants
  • Very young infants, especially those six months and younger
  • Children younger than two years old with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease
  • Children with weakened immune systems
  • Children who have neuromuscular disorders, including those who have difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions

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