Manitoba

Children's Hospital warns parents about rise in respiratory infections

Parents of newborns and babies should be on alert for respiratory infections as the number of severe cases rise in Winnipeg, say officials with Health Sciences Centre.

HSC restricting visitors in pediatric neonatal intensive care units due to rise in RSV cases

Health Sciences Centre is restricting who can visit the pediatric and neonatal intensive units to parents and caregivers after a recent rise in the number of babies admitted for severe forms of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Parents of newborns and babies should be on alert for respiratory infections as the number of severe cases rise in Winnipeg, say officials with Health Sciences Centre.

The hospital has seen 45 cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) since Sept. 1, including 12 cases in November alone. 

The high number of cases is unusual for this time of year, said Dr. Aaron Chiu, RSV specialist and physician with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Child Health Program and HSC Children's Hospital.

"Usually we don't see that many. Maybe a couple," Chiu said.

In typical years, RSV cases begin appearing in larger numbers in January and February, he said. 

RSV is a common cold virus that infects most children by the time they turn two.

In most cases, children overcome the effects — which include a runny nose or cough — but in some cases, especially children under two born premature or who have a heart condition, the virus can morph into bronchiolitis, according to Chiu.

Children and babies who develop RSV bronchiolitis can spend weeks on a respirator because they are unable to breathe. In rare cases children can die, although Chiu said he is unaware of any deaths due to RSV this year.

Young babies have tiny airways, he said, so even a small amount of mucus can mean they have trouble catching their breath.

Common sense prevention

As a result of the recent increase in RSV cases, HSC is restricting who can visit the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units to parents and caregivers only and to only two people at a time.

HSC's Dr. Aaron Chiu says washing hands can help stop the spread of RSV. (CBC)

Common sense is key to prevention.

Chiu said parents who may have cold symptoms like a runny nose should avoid kissing their children and babies on the face until they feel better.

"Most importantly, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," said Chiu.

"Frequent hand washing, especially after touching your face, your child's face, another person who is ill, or touching things someone who is sick may have touched, is the best way to prevent spreading germs."

Parents may also consider keeping babies away from public areas like shopping malls and schools where there may be people with colds or other illnesses, said Chiu.

The flu shot does not prevent against RSV but may help prevent complications with RSV.

Signs of respiratory syncytial virus, according to HSC:

  • Difficulty breathing (for example the skin on their chest is sucking in between ribs, below the ribs or at the bottom of the neck).
  • Has a frequent choking cough.
  • Wheezing with breathing (whistle sound).
  • Acts sick, is very tired and not playful.
  • Not feeding well or has fewer than three wet diapers in a day.
  • Looks off-colour.

If parents and caregivers have questions about RSV, they should speak with their doctor, public health nurse or nursing station, or call Health Links – Info Santé at 204-788-8200; Toll-free 1-888-315-9257.

with files from Sean Kavanagh

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