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Children's health

22nd Oct 2021

Everything parents need to know about the respiratory syncytial virus

Kat O'Connor

Respiratory syncytial virus cases are rising in Ireland.

There has been a surge in cases of the respiratory syncytial virus in Ireland in recent weeks.

The country’s children’s hospitals are overwhelmed with cases.

But what exactly is a respiratory syncytial virus?

What is it?

RSV is a common cause of infection in infancy. Nearly all children will suffer from it before the age of 2.

It is usually mild and will clear within a week or two.

Symptoms are similar to that of a common cold.

However, doctors are seeing more children being hospitalised with the virus this year.

Some children, particularly premature babies, kids with lung and heart conditions, and immunocompromised kids are at risk of developing severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms.

Re-infection is common.

RSV is very contagious and is spread through respiratory secretions.

Schools, creches, and nurseries are high-risk locations for the virus.

Medical experts have stressed that the virus is extremely contagious and can often worsen quickly. It is important for parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms so they can be prepared.

RSV Ireland


Most children will suffer a mild case of RSV if infected.

Kids will usually present with a fever, runny nose, and sniffles.

However, the virus can progress and cause more severe symptoms.

Parents have been warned to look out for the below symptoms:

  1. A persistent cough
  2. Breathing issues
  3. Wheezing
  4. Gasping for air
  5. Rapid breathing
  6. Blue lips or blue discolouration around the mouth and under the fingernails
  7. A raised fever


Most cases will go away on their own within a week or two. Children can be given medication to ease their temperature and to soothe their cough. Getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids is advised.

Children should also stay out of school or creche if they’re suffering from RSV due to the virus being so easily spread.

Researchers are working on vaccines and viral treatments for more severe cases.

RSV Ireland

Severe cases of RSV can lead to both bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Children with severe cases may need to be treated in hospital.

They may require additional oxygen or a breathing tube. Others could even require ventilation.

Many people only require hospital treatment for a few days.


There are many preventative measures to halt the spread of RSV.

Just like with Covid-19, staying as hygienic as possible is key.

Doctors have stressed the importance of handwashing time and time again since the beginning of the pandemic and the same goes for RSV.

  1. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is key. If it isn’t possible then use a hand sanitiser.
  2. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of any used tissues and sneeze/cough into your elbow, especially when you’re in public.
  3. Disinfect frequently used things like door handles, remote controls and kettles.
  4. Avoid close contacts as much as possible, especially if someone in your household is infected.
  5. Don’t touch your face if your hands have not been recently cleaned.
  6. If possible, cut down on the number of time children are spending in overcrowded and highly contagious areas like play centers, public transport, and creches.

Parents have been urged to contact their GP if they’re concerned about RSV or if they have any questions about the virus.

Anyone with symptoms is advised to isolate and avoid spreading the virus further.

Nurse practitioner John Corcoran said there is “a big challenge ahead of us” as Crumlin Children’s Hospital deals with an influx of RSV patients. He said the increase in cases is causing a great deal of stress for the healthcare service.

“We’re really apprehensive that these numbers are putting a huge strain on us and we’re worried we can’t give people the proper service because of the increase.”

He advised parents to see their GP or pharmacist and only visit the hospital if necessary.

“Mammies and daddies have this intuition when their child is sick. Treat your child with Calpol, Nurofen and seek advice from your GP or local pharmacy. They’re there to help and assist you.”

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