1 NEWSDirector-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says more children seem to be susceptible to the virus this winter.Children’s wards and general pra
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says more children seem to be susceptible to the virus this winter.
Children’s wards and general practices throughout New Zealand are coming under extreme pressure as a virus leaves infants gasping to breathe behind oxygen masks, putting their anxious parents on high alert.
The flu-like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has caused widespread disruption to early childhood centres as it spreads quickly through the country.
It is a normal winter illness, but has hit hard this year as children aged under 2 had lower immunity. This was because they were not exposed to viruses last winter due to the Covid-19 lockdown and border closures.
Half of Porirua doctor Bryan Betty’s patients on Wednesday were children with respiratory illnesses.
* RSV: Operations delayed, extra staff brought in, babies in intensive care as respiratory virus cases spike
* Children’s wards in Southland and Otago at capacity
* More babies and toddlers sick as respiratory virus cases surge in Canterbury
Betty, the medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, said he was receiving reports of “very busy” GPs and full hospitals around New Zealand – particularly in the North Island.
“It’s pretty flat tack at the moment.”
The virus would most likely spread further when families travelled during the school holidays next week, he said.
He urged parents to get their children checked if they had concerns, regardless of messages about how much pressure the health system was under at present.
Some primary schools had reported having up to half their pupils and some staff absent due to respiratory illnesses, New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush said.
There had been 41 confirmed cases of RSV in Canterbury alone since June 1.
Parents inside Christchurch Hospital had described full wards, with many young children wearing oxygen masks to help them breathe. One parent said after-hours care services were overflowing on Wednesday night and children were waiting as long as 2.5 hours to be seen in hospital.
Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Ramon Pink said there had been a steep rise in respiratory illnesses in the region in the past fortnight.
Further north, the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board was restricting visitor access to its children’s wards and special care baby units to help protect vulnerable youngsters.
Seven children aged under 5 had been admitted to Blenheim’s Wairau Hospital with RSV symptoms, while 14 were admitted in Nelson.
The children’s ward at Southland Hospital was full this week, with nine out of 10 patients in the children’s ward suffering from respiratory illnesses.
It was the same pattern elsewhere in the country, with the Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley district health boards reporting increasing numbers of patients with respiratory illnesses.
Wellington Regional Hospital had admitted 33 children, plus two in intensive care, while Hutt Hospital had 11 child patients.
Chief medical officer John Tait said the community-wide outbreak was highly contagious.
He appealed to the public to stay away, reschedule hospital appointments if possible, and for parents to keep children under 12 at home.
Visitor restrictions were in place for maternity wards and units in Wellington Regional Hospital, Kenepuru Community Centre, Kapiti Health Centre and Hutt Hospital.
“A number of babies have been admitted to the children’s ward and we want to keep this virus away from our most vulnerable in the neonatal unit.”
Wairarapa Hospital’s 10-bed paediatric unit was full, and the special care baby unit had been repurposed as a special care paediatric unit for those needing extra respiratory support.
The Wairarapa District Health Board said there were “higher than usual” numbers of infants and young children with respiratory illness, and RSV was the likely cause.
Auckland’s Waitematā District Health Board could not give the number of patients with RSV, but a spokesperson said it had seen “record numbers” of children being taken to Waitākere Hospital.
The Counties Manukau District Health Board said presentations at the Kidz First emergency department were twice what they were over summer, going from between 400 and 450 a week to 800 last week.
Babies on oxygen and feeding tubes are flooding hospitals as RSV – a potentially deadly respiratory virus – runs rampant across the country. Wellington Hospital has more than 20 babies in its children’s ward, many on oxygen.
The hospital had converted a playroom to make space for 11 special care baby cots.
Demand at national children’s hospital Starship in Auckland had hit “all-time highs” over the past fortnight.
In Hawke’s Bay, 25 children were in hospital with confirmed or suspected RSV as of Thursday afternoon, including five in intensive care.
Medical director Dr Philip Moore said he had never seen so many sick children needing hospital care “in all my 28 years as a paediatrician in Hawke’s Bay”.
At Waikato Hospital, 44 infants and children were confirmed to have RSV and four had been admitted to the intensive care unit.
The Tairāwhiti District Health Board was caring for three children suspected of having RSV, while the MidCentral District Health Board’s Dr Jeff Brown said it was admitting between 10 and 20 babies and children each day with respiratory illnesses, including RSV.
Rotorua Hospital was near capacity across all wards. The emergency department saw 129 patients on Wednesday, of whom 51 were children and 31 were aged under 2.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said RSV was a common winter condition and spikes in cases could happen.
Hospital capacity had been stretched because of a surge in respiratory viral infections, the spokesperson confirmed, but health boards had plans in place to meet demand.
What is RSV?
- A common respiratory illness caused by a virus
- Typically mild with symptoms similar to the common cold
- Can be severe in infants and vulnerable adults who can suffer fever, severe cough and difficulty breathing
- Parents are advised to call Healthline if concerned on 0800 611 116.