The Gibraltar Health Authority is encouraging parents to be aware of the signs of respiratory illnesses in young children, which result in increasing demands on healthcare services over the winter period.
Respiratory illnesses, including colds and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are very common in young children and we see them every year. For the majority of children, these illnesses are not serious and they recover quickly following rest and plenty of fluids. This year, a number of children have been admitted to hospital with RSV infection already.
Viruses are spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Tiny droplets of liquid can be breathed in directly from the air or picked up from a surface they have landed on, such as on toys or a table. RSV can survive on a surface for up to 24 hours.
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 it is possible that we will see more cases this year as a result.
Symptoms of RSV include:
- Nasal congestion
- Scratchy throat
- A high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)
- Noisy breathing (wheezing)
- Inflammation and mucous collection in the smallest airways in the lungs (Bronchiolitis)
It can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and RSV symptoms. If you are concerned your child may have COVID-19 you should contact 111 or your GP for advice.
Most cases of RSV are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks. You should treat the symptoms by:
- Keeping your child upright when needed, this can alleviate breathing
- Encouraging the drinking of plenty of fluids
- Continuing to offer small frequent oral feeds if tolerated
- Treating your child’s fever with medication, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, if it is bothering them
- Not smoking in the home
- Using saline (salt water) nasal drops for babies who are having trouble feeding/ breastfeeding, they are available from pharmacies without a prescription
It is important to note that antibiotics will not work in the treatment of RSV; they are only effective against bacterial infections.
Children may still get their routine vaccines, even with cold symptoms, a low-grade fever or mild illness; this will not affect how well the body responds to a vaccine. Those with moderate or serious illness may need to wait until they are better to get some vaccines; particularly if they have an underlying chronic illness or an already weakened immune system (e.g. on chemotherapy). If you are unsure, please seek advice from your child’s health care professional.
Contact your GP or call 111 if:
- You are worried about your child.
- Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last 2 or 3 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
Remember COVID has not gone away and if you are concerned that your child may have COVID contact 111 for advice.
Dial 190 for an ambulance if:
- Your child is having difficulty breathing.
- Your child’s tongue or lips are blue.
- There are long pauses in your child’s breathing.
Good respiratory and hand hygiene can reduce the spread of respiratory infections. Parents are advised to carry tissues and use them to catch coughs or sneezes, bin the used tissues as soon as possible and wash your hands (with soap and warm water or hand sanitiser) to kill the germs.