Newborns with respiratory infections on the rise

Parents reminded to take precautions to protect infants

Mother and baby
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Information for Parents

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Winnipeg Health Region is urging parents to take precautions following a rise in the number of newborns turning up at local hospitals with respiratory infections.

Just over 100 children have been admitted to Children's Hospital since mid-December with lung infections, known as bronchiolitis or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), according to Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg, Medical Director of the Region's Child Health Program.

RSV or Bronchiolitis is an infection of the small airway in the lungs. It can occur all year round, but is most common during the winter months. RSV is the most frequent cause of serious respiratory infections in children under two years of age.

"Respiratory infections can be very serious," Rockman-Greenberg said. "Children under one year can develop very severe diseases that can require hospitalization." But many children have a mild form of RSV that can be cared for at home.

Rockman-Greenberg said basic hygiene and common sense are the best ways to prevent the infection. "Keep infants away from places where there are people with colds like shopping malls or schools. But most importantly, remember to wash your hands frequently especially after coughing or sneezing, blowing your nose or wiping the noses of your children, or after being around any ill person."

A relatively large number of young children with the condition have required medical treatment, including wearing oxygen masks and even being put on a ventilator. Since mid-December there have been:

  • 106 admissions to Children's Hospital
  • 19 patients required admission to PICU

Based on age at time of admission:

  • 9 admissions were less than 28 days
  • 44 admissions were between one and six months
  • 23 admissions were between six and 12 months
  • 30 admission were one year or older

Officials say 52 admissions were from outside Winnipeg, including 10 from Nunavut. An additional 21 patients were seen in the Emergency Department, treated and released.

If you have questions, call:

  • Your doctor
  • The Public Health Nurse or Nursing Station
  • Health Links – Info Santé at 788-8200 (toll free 1-888-315-9257)

Information for Parents

What are bronchiolitis & RSV?

Bronchiolitis is an infection of the small airways in the lungs. Most often it is caused by RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). RSV is the most frequent cause of serious respiratory infections in children under two years of age. It can occur all year round but is most common during the winter months. Many children have a mild form of RSV that can be cared for at home.

What is the disease like?

When the infection is mild, it can cause:

  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Choking cough with lots of mucus that may last more than two weeks
  • Wheezing with breathing for a few weeks
  • Fever, which may be present for several days
  • Ear infections (sometimes)

A few children develop pneumonia from an RSV infection.

How can my child get RSV bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is passed on by close contact with someone who has the infection. It can be picked up by:

  • Coming in contact with the mucus from the sick person's nose or mouth
  • Touching something, such as tables, chairs, equipment or toys, that has been coughed on by the sick person in or out of the home

Often adults or older children are not aware that they have bronchiolitis because they do not feel ill, or they have only a mild cold. They can pass it on to children when they play with or care for them. Children may also come in contact with RSV in public places such as schools or shopping malls.

People who live in close quarters are more likely to pass on the infection. This is because it is easy to cough on someone else, or to touch something that has been coughed on.

Can bronchiolitis be serious?

Yes it can. Some children, especially babies less than one year of age, can develop severe disease, with or without pneumonia. They may need to be treated in the hospital.

Children who have other health problems, such as heart or lung disease, may have more trouble with bronchiolitis infections. Talk to your doctor if your child has heart or lung disease or was born premature.

When should my child be seen by the doctor?

Contact your doctor if your child:

  • Has a hard time breathing
  • Has a frequent choking cough
  • Acts sick, is very tired and not playful
  • Is not feeding well
  • Has fewer than three wet diapers a day
  • Looks off colour

The doctor may send mucus to the lab to test for RSV.

How is bronchiolitis treated?

Children should avoid being exposed to second hand smoke. Smoke makes coughing and wheezing worse.

In most cases the disease runs its course and needs no treatment. Your child may need to have help clearing the mucus in their nose with a nasal suction bulb. If your child has a fever, you may give medicine to reduce the fever. Bronchiolitis cannot be cured by antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if your child has bronchiolitis and an ear infection.

Children who have very severe symptoms may need to be in hospital. They may need oxygen and masks to help with their breathing. They may also need to have help to clear the mucus in their nose and throat with a small tube (called suctioning). Infants who have bronchiolitis should be fed in an upright position.

How to prevent bronchiolitis from spreading

  • Children with a bronchiolitis infection should be kept at home until they are better.
  • Children, especially babies, should stay away from crowded places where there are people with colds and avoid close contact with people who may be sick with a cold.
  • Wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or after being with a sick person.
  • Use a tissue only once.
  • Do not give your baby toys or other objects that have been used by a person who is sick.
  • Teach other children to turn away and cough into a tissue when they cough and to wash their hands after coughing and sneezing.

All people who have contact with a sick child should wash their hands before they do anything else so that they do not spread the virus.

Can my child get bronchiolitis from RSV again?

Yes, but for many children the second time they get it, the symptoms are not as bad.

Does bronchiolitis cause any damage to my child's lungs?

Most children get better and do not have increased problems handling colds in the future. Some children may be more likely to have infections and/or asthma in the future. This may be due to other health problems or allergies. If this occurs, discuss it with your doctor.

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