Respiratory illnesses, including colds and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are very common in young children and we see them every year. RSV in particular are common viruses that cause coughs and colds in winter and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children under two. In the UK, the RSV season typically begins in the autumn – earlier than the adult flu season – and runs throughout the winter. However, this year we are now seeing this presenting in children much sooner.
Vanessa Wilson, Programme Lead for Women’s and Children’s Services in Lancashire and South Cumbria, said: “Young children can typically have several coughs or cold-like illnesses each year. Children gradually build up immunity and get fewer colds with colds generally getting better in five to seven days.
“The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold, such as a runny nose and a cough. But further symptoms can develop over the next few days and may include a slight high temperature (fever), a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, and rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).”
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious, but parents and carers should contact their GP or call freephone NHS 111 if:
- You’re 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 38C or above.
- your child seems very tired or irritable.
Parents and carers are also advised to dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- Your baby is having difficulty breathing.
- Your baby’s tongue or lips are blue.
- There are long pauses in your baby’s breathing.
Babies born since the COVID-19 pandemic have not had as much exposure to common viruses which would build up their immune system. As measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing are relaxed, Public Health England are expecting to see an increase in cases this season.
Dr Darran Harris, a GP in West Lancashire and Primary Care Network Clinical Director, said: “Understandably, parents are more alert to cold-like symptoms which may often be confused with coronavirus, yet can be apprehensive 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.”
There are simple steps you can take to reduce the spread of all viruses:
- Use tissues to catch coughs or sneezes, bin the used tissues as soon as possible and wash your hands with soap and warm water to kill the germs.
- Children with flu or bronchiolitis symptoms should stay home and reduce contacts where possible.
- Particularly avoid close contact with newborn babies, infants born prematurely (before 37 weeks), children under 2 born with heart or lung conditions, and those with weakened immune systems.