The respiratory syncytial virus struck almost 650 children and older people within a week this month
The HSE is braced for one of the worst winters ever as a so-called “twindemic” of Covid-19 and the flu looms and is reportedly anticipating more than 17,000 hospital admissions, with 700 of these in ICU.
However, another cause for concern is the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which struck almost 650 children and older people within a week this month, according to the HPSC’s latest Weekly Infectious Disease Report.
The figure is nearly double the usual peak of cases of around 350-375 weekly cases in any given year.
Dr Barry Linnane of University Hospital Limerick (UHL) said that the number of children being infected with RSV has “really kicked off” since September and is heading for a “major peak”.
“We are already seeing a lot of activity coming here in UHL in our paediatric emergency department,” he explained.
“As of September, we had a 30pc increase in the activity that we were seeing compared to last year, and that was already about 20 or 30pc up from the year before.
“Certainly the data is there that it really is a major peak this year.”
While RSV is a mild illness for most people, it can lead to hospitalisation for young babies and the elderly.
It has similar symptoms to the common cold – such as coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and, in some cases, difficulty breathing and a fever.
Dr Linnane said that approximately 60pc of babies contract RSV in their first winter, with 1pc of those will ending up in hospital with the virus.
He warned that parents should avoid letting their babies have contact with anyone who may have symptoms of the virus.
“Children who are sick shouldn't mix with others. And as much as people can, they should try and stick with that, particularly with small children.
“Children under six months, particularly under three months, we really don't want them interacting with somebody who has the symptoms as described earlier, if you can at all,” Dr Linnane said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre's (HPSC) most recent Weekly Infectious Disease Report found that there were 646 cases of RSV during the week of November 6 to November 12.
During the same period, 1,884 Covid cases were recorded in addition to 174 cases of the flu.
421 of the 646 RSV cases were reported in children aged between 0 and 4 years old and 99 were reported in the over 65s category.
The remaining 126 cases were found in those between the ages of 5 and 64.