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What are the symptoms of RSV as cases rise in the UK?

woman coughs on the street
The UK could see as many as 60,000 flu death this winter, experts warn (Picture: Getty)

Concerns around the surge in RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and flu cases are high as England prepares to come out of lockdown on Monday.

Health experts from the Academy of Medical Sciences have warned that the UK could see as many as 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 children in hospital with RSV this winter – double the deaths seen in a normal year, and 10,000 more child hospitalisations than usual.

But what exactly is RSV, and what are the symptoms to look out for?

Here is all you need to know.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms.

mother tends to her sick child
40,000 children may be hospitalised with RSV this winter (Picture: Getty)

Most people will only experience temporary mild symptoms, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

In children under 12 months, RSV can cause bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs).

According to the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG), around 83 children and adolescents die every year from RSV – this number jumps to 8,000 in elderly adults.

However, the proportion of children who end up hospitalised due to RSV is only around 3%, the OVG reported in 2017.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within four to six days of getting infected.

Symptoms of RSV infection include:

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

These symptoms typically appear in stages and not all at once.

It can be difficult to differentiate between RSV and Covid-19 or the common cold as the symptoms are quite similar.

As a result, scientists have called for expansion of coronavirus testing to also include tests for flu and RSV so GPs can quickly confirm sicknesses and treat patients accordingly.

Public Health England (PHE) told that good respiratory hygiene and handwashing can reduce the spread of RSV and influenza.

PHE went on to say that ‘it is perfectly OK for parents to ask people with colds to keep away from newborn babies, particularly in the first two months, and babies born prematurely.’

They suggested that parents should call NHS 111 or their GP if they are concerned.

How to treat RSV

There is no specific treatment for RSV infection, although scientists are working on vaccines.

Most RSV infections go away on their own within a fortnight.

To treat symptoms of RSV, you can take over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers such as ibuprofen, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

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Boris Johnson lists out his five point plan for reopening and 'living with' Covid

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Why is RSV on the rise in the UK?

Dr Conall Watson, Consultant Epidemiologist at PHE, explained to ‘There were very few cases last winter due to social distancing measures, and so we expect more cases than usual this year due to less immunity in the population.

‘We have seen an earlier rise in cases in other countries and so the NHS in England has been preparing for a similar scenario.’

After more than a year of keeping our distance from people and spending more time at home, far fewer of us will have been exposed to illnesses, meaning we won’t have had the chance to build up flu antibodies – and so more people are expected to get the flu or RVS this winter.

This increased demand for healthcare is expected to put further strain on an already stretched NHS.

Azra Ghani, a member of the expert advisory group for the academy’s report and professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said their predictions are uncertain and represent a worst-case scenario.

However, he added: ‘What is clear is that the triple whammy of these infections on top of the backlog of routine care is going to potentially disrupt services in the coming winter and is likely to put severe strain on the NHS.’

MORE : Over 1,500 NHS and care workers have now died with Covid

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