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RSV cases on the increase

With positive tests for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) increasing nearly fourfold in Greater Brisbane in 2021 compared to last year, Queenslanders are reminded to help limit the spread by following good hygiene practices.

Pathology Queensland data shows that between January and March 2021, a total of 2,251 people tested positive to RSV in the Greater Brisbane region, which includes West Moreton, Metro North, Metro South Hospital and Health Services and the Queensland Children’s Hospital.

This compares to 591 people testing positive to RSV in Greater Brisbane region between January and March 2020.

This year, nearly 74 per cent of positive cases have been among children aged under 10 years. In 2020, 45 per cent of positive cases were among children under 10 years.

Dr Geoff Pearce, Queensland Children’s Hospital paediatric emergency physician said hospitals typically saw an increase in RSV cases when the cooler autumn temperatures settled in, but this year there had been an early and more widespread surge in cases.

“RSV is a common and highly infectious virus that most children will catch at least once before they turn two,” Dr Pearce said.

“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.

“RSV is a common cause of lung infections such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia and children under three are at the highest risk of serious illness because their immune system is less developed.”

Statewide, between January and February 2021, Queensland Health’s latest data shows there were 1,151 episodes of admitted patient care to Queensland hospitals reported with a principal diagnosis of RSV. 92 per cent of these were for persons aged under 18 years.

In comparison, between January and February 2020, there were 238 episodes of admitted patient care to Queensland hospitals with a principal diagnosis of RSV with 73 per cent of episodes of admitted patient care for persons aged under 18 years.

Symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat and headache. Children may also experience wheezing, laboured breathing and dehydration. Symptoms may last for up to 10 days.

“Children with RSV could worsen in the first two to three days from the onset of illness and often felt sickest between days three and six,” Dr Pearce said.

“Most cases are mild and can be treated at home with rest and regular fluids.

“If your child is uncomfortable with fever, they may be given children’s paracetamol in recommended doses, and saltwater drops may help to clear nasal congestion in young infants.

“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 zero (000) immediately.”

Similar to COVID-19, RSV can spread through person to person contact, through the air, or from, objects and surfaces.

“Like any virus, regular and proper handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread as well as staying home when you’re sick,” Dr Pearce said.

With many symptoms of RSV mirroring COVID-19 symptoms, all Queenslanders are reminded to continue being cautious and anyone experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms such as a runny nose, fever, cough or sore throat, should get tested and isolate until they receive their result and their symptoms resolve.


Media contact: 3708 5376

Last updated: 22 April 2020