What is RSV?:
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.
It's so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2, but it can also infect adults.
Symptoms are usually mild and typically mimic a common cold but they cause a severe infection in babies - especially premature infants - and elderly or those with weak immune systems.
Symptoms can be treated with medicines such as painkillers, nose drops or sprays, cough syrups and drops, throat lozenges and decongestants.
Source: Ministry of Health
Northland DHB has recorded 47 positive tests of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection with more than half of those from the last eight days alone.
The highly-contagious winter respiratory virus is currently sweeping the nation causing hospitals to postpone surgeries to create extra bed space and restrict visitors to help stop the spread. The virus hits babies in particular with many ending up in Intensive Care Units or needing oxygen to help them breathe.
Northland DHB has carried out 273 RSV tests so far this year with only one returning positive before June when 91 tests carried out returned 21 positive results. From July 1-8, 56 tests had returned 25 positives.
A Northland DHB spokesperson said that, over the last 14 days, they had seen unusually high rates of RSV infection.
"Most admissions have been brief. However, some have been protracted until the child improves. Many children have only needed feeding modification or support without any breathing support. There has been some low-flow oxygen, some high-flow humidified oxygen and two CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) in ICU."
Over the last 10 days, three infants had brief periods in ICU and made recoveries without the need for invasive respiratory support. None had required transfer to Auckland DHB PICU for more intensive support.
At Whangārei Hospital, the Children's Ward had fluctuated between 19-24 beds for influenza type illnesses, including RSV.
Symptoms include cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. In infants, the virus can cause serious illness including bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
Admissions were fluctuating among all of Northland DHB hospitals with enhanced management put in place due to high numbers. However, there was still capacity at all four sites.
Earlier this week, Whangārei Hospital put temporary alterations in place for their visitor policies for the Te Kotuku (Maternity Ward), Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) and the Children's Ward (Ward 2). It restricted visitors to both parents or primary caregivers of a child present during the day; only one parent or primary caregiver to stay overnight, with no other visitors allowed, including siblings.
The spokesperson said these were implemented to reduce transmission and Northland DHB was developing contingency plans to deal with growing numbers.
"We are confident that we will be able to cope."
There is currently no vaccine readily available for RSV. Immunity to RSV develops over the first couple of years of life, but it is never fully complete and tends to decline again with age. This means older adults can also be seriously affected by the virus.
Last year, numbers of admissions to the Children's Ward were down which was likely attributed to the lockdown, along with the key messaging that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic around hygiene.
Whangārei Hospital paediatrician Dr Ailsa Tuck said the virus is common and most children will recover on their own, but parents should seek medical advice if they are concerned.
Parents should call their GP, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116 at any time to talk to a health professional.
She said that there are some basic things that parents can do to keep their children well, and to stop the spread of the respiratory viruses.
"Washing hands well and often, covering sneezes or coughs, and keeping your tamariki home if they are unwell, can all make a difference."
Further information can be found at northlanddhb.org.nz.