A South Australian mother is warning parents of young children about the dangers of a common virus that’s hospitalised her baby boy.
Chantel Phelps said earlier this year her son, Leo White, caught COVID-19 when he was four weeks old, and a few weeks later he contracted respiratory syncytial virus, which is otherwise known as RSV.
“He was lifting his head up and down and that’s how I knew he was really struggling to breathe … things just went downhill really quick,” she said.
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While COVID-19 is reported to have less severe symptoms in children, RSV can be serious for babies and young children.
RSV is an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract, which causes inflammation and breathing difficulties, that can be severe for babies because their airways are small.
Leo White is being treated at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide. Credit: Supplied
Phelp said she took Leo to see a local GP in Murray Bridge, about an hour’s drive east of Adelaide, close to where she lives.
She said after seeing that Leo was struggling to breathe, the doctor advised them to go to the local hospital.
At the hospital, the family were told Leo would need to be flown to Adelaide for treatment.
“They called medSTAR (air ambulance) because of how traumatic it was and there was no stuffing around,” Phelps said.
“He is just so little that his body can’t work (fighting the virus) on its own.”
But Leo was discharged although he hadn’t fully recovered from the illness, his mother said.
About a month later, the baby was rushed to hospital again because he contracted rhinovirus and bronchiolitis.
Leo currently remains at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital until doctors are satisfied he has fully recovered from both viruses, Phelps said.
She said many parents don’t know that RSV can seem like a common cold, but can be more serious in babies.
“It was pretty confronting. We nearly lost him the first time, and we’re just going around in circles,” she said.
“I know it (RSV) is in the Murray Bridge community pretty bad, but I don’t think people are taking it seriously, they probably just think it’s a common cold.
“It could cost your kid’s life if they’re under six months, and that’s what they said to me here (in hospital).”
Chantel Phelps said her baby boy was hospitalised with RSV. Credit: 7NEWS/Supplied
According to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System, RSV cases in Australia so far this year have surpassed the total number of cases last year.
University of South Australia epidemiologist, Professor Adrian Esterman said nationally there had been about a 30 per cent increase in cases this year compared to last year.
In South Australia, there have been 10,808 reported cases of RSV as of October 6, 2023, while there were only 9537 cases reported across 2022.
Phelps was told many children have recently been hospitalised with RSV in Adelaide, and some of those cases could be a result of weather changes.
“This weather is just nasty and it’s (RSV) just brewing, that’s why it’s so bad this year … it’s going from hot to cold,” Phelps said.
But Esterman said weather was less likely the reason, and the link is more likely to do with fewer public health restrictions since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baby Leo White was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19, RSV and then rhinovirus. Credit: Supplied
“In 2022, the (RSV) peak occurred in July, whereas this year, it occurred in June,” he said.
“It is unclear if weather had any impact on this year’s earlier RSV season. More likely (it) is the dismantling of COVID-related public health measures this year that would have prevented some cases in 2022, and less exposure to RSV in 2022 reducing immunity this year.”
SA Health communicable disease control branch director Dr Louise Flood also advised parents with children under six months old who had symptoms of coughing or wheezing to see a doctor.
“If you’ve got a child that’s under six months that’s got a respiratory type illness, I do encourage you to have your child seen,” she said.
Flood said a vaccine for RSV was expected to become available over the next few years.
A GoFundMe has been sent up to support Leo’s family financially as he remains in Adelaide for treatment.
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