Surge in RSV cases detected in Queensland childcare, aged care facilities amid COVID testing

The number of children and teenagers admitted to Queensland hospitals with a potentially life-threatening virus has more than doubled with outbreaks of respiratory syncytial virus spreading across Queensland childcare centres.

Key points:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus is a contagious common virus

  • It can cause a minor illness in most people but can be severe in young children or those with weakened immune systems

  • Symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat and headache

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious, common virus that typically causes minor illness but can be severe in young children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms of RSV can be similar to those of COVID-19, including a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat and headache, according to a Queensland Health spokesperson. Of the 563 people admitted with RSV to Queensland hospitals between November 2020 and January 2021, 510 were aged under 18. This compares with 260 total cases recorded between November 2019 and January 2020, of which 209 were young people. 'Often babies end up in hospital' Sunshine Coast physician Penny Hutchinson said one of the reasons RSV cases had spiked was that more people were seeing their doctors with cold-like symptoms and being tested amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Queensland COVID-19 snapshot:

  • Confirmed cases so far: 1,446

  • Deaths: 6

  • Tests conducted: 2,136,035

  • Active cases: 71

  • Latest information from Queensland Health.

"It's most commonly seen in young children and most children by the age of two would have been exposed to respiratory syncytial virus and that's because it's so contagious," she said. "We also see it in the elderly and we have had outbreaks of RSV in aged care facilities and that's occurring right across the state … we're seeing outbreaks of this virus in childcare centres at the moment as well." The Queensland public health units where increased RSV cases have been recorded have contacted childcare centre staff, parents and carers to remind them how to prevent the spread of RSV.

Dr Hutchinson said the virus could be severe in babies under 12 months old, and could cause bronchiolitis or pneumonia and be life-threatening. "Often babies may end up in hospital with this disease," she said.

The Queensland Health spokesperson said methods to prevent the spread of RSV were similar to those that prevented the spread of COVID-19, including regular hand-washing with soap and water, and covering the mouth and nose with an elbow when sneezing. Spike linked to COVID 'complacency' Dr Hutchinson said the virus was very similar to the common cold and extremely contagious. "There is a bit of complacency creeping into the community because we've been very fortunate with COVID and we've managed to keep COVID out of Queensland," she said. "Certainly the way to avoid being infected by this virus is making sure you wash your hands often, make sure you keep hands away from your face, avoiding contact with sick people.

"The virus can survive on surfaces for up to 30 minutes so it's actually important to clean and disinfect surfaces, so in areas such as childcare or aged care facilities it's really important to keep up cleaning."


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