Protect your family from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu and winter viruses

HSE Press Release
Tuesday, 14 November 2023
  • HSE urges people to help limit spread of RSV to protect children and newborns

The HSE is urging parents to be vigilant of their children’s symptoms as GPs and hospitals report a rise in the numbers of young children affected by respiratory symptoms and viruses, including RSV. A rise in RSV is to be expected during the winter period.

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a highly contagious respiratory disease, which generally occurs between October and April, with cases peaking in December. It is the main cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in very young children. Bronchiolitis may lead to breathing and feeding difficulties and can result in hospitalisation.

RSV can also be serious and life-threatening for older adults, individuals with weak immune systems, and children who are premature or have chronic heart and lung disease.

Dr Abigail Collins, National Clinical Lead for the HSE's Child Health Public Health Programme, said: “We’ve seen a very significant recent rise in the number of children with RSV, especially in children aged four and under, which is concerning. It’s up to us all to do our part to protect vulnerable babies and children. Key to that is to reducing the chance of infection and spread.

“That means staying away from others if you feel unwell, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, binning used tissues and washing your hands after and regularly throughout the day. Please make sure your child’s vaccines or immunisations are up to date, including the annual free nasal flu vaccine available from your local GP or pharmacy.”

Dr Ciara Martin, HSE National Clinical Advisor for Children and Young People, said: “Newborns and younger babies are at particular risk from RSV. When visiting families with newborns you need to be extra careful to wash your hands before holding them. And don’t kiss and cuddle babies if you have a cold or a cough. For parents who are worried we have a lot of advice available on mychild.ie.

“Most cases of RSV can be cared for at home, and usually clears between two to three weeks without treatment. However, symptoms can worsen quickly, particularly within the first 5-6 days, so it is important to watch symptoms and seek medical advice when needed.”

Advice regarding crèches and childcare services

At this time of year, children may have a runny nose or slight cough, and they should not be prevented from attending if they are feeling well with one mild symptom. However, if a child is feeling unwell with more significant symptoms, or combination of symptoms (cough, runny nose and mild fever) then they should be at home until the fever and their symptoms have gone.

Children may have a persistent cough after infection for a few weeks so once the fever and other symptoms have gone, they should not be excluded for the cough alone.

Good ventilation of shared spaces, good cough etiquette (coughing into tissue or elbow rather than on hands) and good hand hygiene / cleaning of surfaces, all really help in preventing spread.

Initial symptoms can include:
  • runny nose
  • blocked nose
  • mild fever (temperature of 38 degrees Celsius)
  • slight cough.
Further symptoms usually develop over the next few days, including:
  • mild fever (temperature of 38 degrees Celsius)
  • a dry and persistent cough
  • rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing)
  • feeding less
  • fewer wet nappies
  • vomiting after feeding
  • being irritable.

Find out what parents need to know about RSV by watching this video from Dr Ciara Martin, HSE Clinical Lead for Children and Young People.

About RSV (Bronchiolitis)

RSV causes bronchiolitis, which is a common chest infection in babies and young children. This virus spreads when someone coughs or sneezes and it mostly affects babies and young children under 2 years old, especially babies under 6 months old. Most cases are mild and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks without treatment. Antibiotics are not needed and will not help to treat it.

Main ways to assist babies with bronchiolitis:
  • keep breastfeeding if you are breastfeeding
  • don’t smoke around them
  • feed little and often as able
  • know signs and symptoms and when to go to your GP/ED.

Sometimes RSV can be more serious and children with bronchiolitis will need to be cared for in hospital. Parents are advised to trust their instinct and to always contact their GP if they are worried, especially if the symptoms get worse quickly. More information and advice can be found here.

Keep an eye on your social feeds on Instagram @IrishHealthService, Twitter @HSELive and Facebook facebook.com/HSElive for information on RSV and other winter viruses #HSEMyChild #WinterViruses

Last updated on: 14 / 11 / 2023