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There has been a fourfold increase in cases of a potentially severe respiratory virus across Greater Brisbane, prompting health authorities to urge people to stay home if they are unwell. 

Key points:

  • RSV is a common illness that mirrors COVID-19 symptoms including runny nose, cough, fever
  • It is highly infectious; in most cases is similar to the common cold but can be severe for young children
  • Health authorities recommend good hygiene and to stay at home and get tested if they have symptoms

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common and highly infectious virus that most children will catch before they turn two and it can cause severe illness in children under three.

Symptoms include a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat and headache and it commonly causes bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Boy blowing nose.

Most cases in children under 10

Between January and March, 2,251 people tested positive to RSV in Greater Brisbane, up from 591 cases during the same period last year, according to Pathology Queensland data.

Of those positive cases, nearly 74 per cent were recorded among children under 10, an increase of 45 per cent from last year.

Across Queensland there were more than 1,100 episodes of RSV in January and February compared with 238 episodes a year earlier.

When to get help

Queensland Children’s Hospital paediatric emergency physician Geoff Pearce said hospitals typically saw an increase in RSV cases when cooler autumn temperatures settled in.

This year, however, there had been an early and more widespread surge in cases, he said.

Dr Pearce said children could be more susceptible to RSV this year because of less exposure to it as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and physical distancing. 

“In most cases, RSV is similar to the common cold and causes a minor illness best treated with plenty of rest and fluids, but young children can become very unwell and may need to be admitted to hospital.”

“The infection can cause inflammation and mucus to build up quickly in children’s small airways, which can make it difficult for them to breathe and they may require oxygen support.

“If symptoms continue, visit your GP. If your child appears very unwell and lethargic, is having severe difficulty breathing or is making a grunting noise, or has blue-coloured lips or skin, call triple-0 immediately.”

RSV spreads in a similar way to COVID-19 through person-to-person contact, through the air or from objects and surfaces, according to Queensland Health.

Dr Pearce said like any virus, regular and proper hand-washing was the best way to prevent the spread as well as staying home when you were sick.

The surge in cases prompted Queensland Health to urge people to continue being cautious, and anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to get tested and isolate until they received their test result.

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