Local warning as childhood respiratory infections on the rise

Published Tuesday 10 August 2021 at 15:04

Local health bosses are encouraging parents to be aware of the signs of respiratory illnesses in young children, as data from Public Health England (PHE) shows cases are starting to rise in parts of the country.

Respiratory illnesses, including colds and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are very common in young children. However 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 more cases may be seen 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.

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, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 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 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.
  • Your child seems very tired or irritable.

Dial 999 for an ambulance if:

If encouraged to take a PCR test and this turns out to be negative, don’t assume that the child is therefore fine. Consult your GP in line with guidance.

Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said:

While still at low numbers, respiratory infections in young children are expected to rise this summer and as we go into the winter months 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 also 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.

Councillor Damian Talbot, Executive Member for Health, said:

While for most children these illnesses won’t be serious and they will ​soon bounce back, it’s really important that if you do need medical help for your child for the reasons outlined that you do come forward for the care you need, especially if they are under two.

We have to be aware of the risks of respiratory conditions as more people mix and with less natural immunity built up in the community during the pandemic.

Dr David White, GP and Pennine Lancashire CCG clinical lead for Urgent Care said:

We know children are suffering from cold-like symptoms at the moment as they have started to mix more as the Government restrictions have eased and the summer holidays have started.  We also know that they are very similar to the symptoms of Covid so understandably parents are anxious about contacting the NHS unnecessarily.

For some infants and babies, such as those born prematurely or with a heart condition, bronchiolitis can be more severe. If your child becomes breathless, their tongue or lips are blue, or there are long pauses in their breathing – the advice is to call 999 for an ambulance immediately.

Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if you’re worried about your child, they’re not feeding properly, they have a persistent high temperature of 38C or above, or they seem very tired or irritable.

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