Isolation causing big rise in children attending emergency department

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Dr John Twomey
UHL Paediatrician Dr John Twomey

ISOLATION caused by the Covid pandemic has been identified as one of the reasons behind a big increase in the number of children attending the paediatric emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

And it has also made children more vulnerable to common illnesses, with the number of childhood infection respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) more than doubling last year when compared to 2020.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s (HPSC) annual infectious diseases report, there were 4,382 cases of RSV during 2021, compared to 1,947 in 2020,

As children return to school and other social activities, medical experts have warned that they have little resistance to viruses like RSV because they were isolating for much of 2020 and early 2021.

The number of children attending the paediatric emergency department at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) between September and November increased by 55per cent compared to the same period in 2020.

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Admissions also spiked, with 49 per cent more children needing a hospital bed in that time compared to the year before.

UHL Paediatrician Dr John Twomey told the Irish Examiner that the majority of cases are caused by respiratory syncytial virus and influenza.

“We continue to see relatively low levels of Covid-19 infection in this age group,” he said.

While RSV is not serious for most children, some of those under the age of two, those born prematurely, or those with a heart condition can have more serious consequences such as bronchiolitis, inflammation of the lower airways,” Dr Twomey said.

Symptoms can last for up to three weeks, and there is no specific treatment.

“Antibiotics, ventolin nebulisers, inhalers, and oral steroids do not work,” he said.

And he does not expect to see any great change in the remaining weeks of this winter.

“Because children had limited contact with one another last year, their exposure to all respiratory viruses and resultant immune response was diminished, and therefore more children will have lower immunity to these viruses,” he said.