A Tauranga mother who is haunted by her own child's experience with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is urging parents to be vigilant as cases soar this winter.
While the surge in cases of the respiratory virus affecting babies across the country has been well publicised, Rachel Crump warns it can affect older children too.
Her 8-year-old daughter Chloe contracted RSV in 2019.
"There is a lot in the media currently about RSV, how it's impacting hospitals, families, babies, childcare centres, and GPs with the inundation of sick children," Crump said.
"Behind the scenes, though, are us parents of compromised children who likely have had this in the past going through incredible amounts of stress, and anxiety, afraid to relive the trauma they may have already been through with their child.
"It's absolutely horrible."
Chloe lives with bronchiectasis and severe asthma.
Bronchiectasis is a chronic lung disease caused by repeated chest infections and chronic inflammation where the airways in the lungs have become scarred and damaged.
This makes Chloe more susceptible to severe chest infections that can be caused by something as simple as the common cold.
"It is really scary [to see RSV in the news again]," Crump said.
"The day my daughter caught the virus, and many others, have haunted me since. We have to do our best to stop her from catching it so we isolate her a lot.
"It is tough on the whole family ... we can't do everything a normal family would, especially during these winter months when she's quite vulnerable.
"I actually don't think people understand this doesn't just affect babies. For kids like Chloe, this could be pretty serious, perhaps even fatal."
To prevent Chloe from picking up RSV or other bugs, her parents have to isolate her as much as they can.
She goes to school part-time, attends swimming lessons, "and that's about it".
However, Crump said her daughter was "tough and resilient".
"She doesn't really know much different now because she's struggled with respiratory issues for so much of her life. But when she's well, she's usually pretty happy."
Crump pleaded for people to think of families like hers when they or their child are sick and to stay home to avoid the risk of spreading any viruses.
"It's really important to keep kids home when they're sick, adults too, and keep up hygiene. There is a bit of a stigma around it but I think now that we've been through Covid people are a little bit more careful."
The Bay of Plenty District Health Board said hospitals in Tauranga were experiencing a surge in RSV.
Clinical nurse specialist infection prevention and control Robyn Boyne said all RSV cases had occurred since May 25, but numbers had escalated since June 20.
"There have been 137 cases in infants and children since then, and 25 in adults," she said.
"Some cases were just seen in the emergency department and then sent home but the majority required admission."
Boyne said they had no cases last year, but in the same period in 2019, they had 50 children and 14 adults present with RSV.
The emergency department and the paediatric ward had been most affected, Boyne said.
The paediatric ward was utilising its paediatric variance response plan which it did at times of high demand, she said.
"We have additional capacity ('swing beds') in another hospital ward which are designated for this purpose and deliberately set up so that both wards can safely use them if and when required."
Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief medical officer Dr Kate Grimwade said: "We saw virtually no RSV or influenza across NZ in 2020 due to measures taken to combat Covid-19.
"Closing our borders prevented importation of infection from overseas which is generally how the season is initiated each year."
General measures including hand hygiene, physical distancing and cough etiquette (coughing into tissues/elbows and washing hands afterwards) also would have helped prevent the spread of respiratory infections between people, she said.
"With no cases last year there is a population of young children who have not been exposed to RSV, who may have been usually, and as a result have no immunity to it.
"RSV has now got back into the country, most likely with the border opening to Australia, and this has not been helped by the fact that as a population we have become somewhat complacent about general preventive measures."
Grimwade said, as a result, they were seeing a larger than usual group of at-risk children exposed and therefore higher numbers getting sick and coming in.
"We are seeing a lot of children in the under-1 group hospitalised as usual, but also a lot of children aged 1-2 this year."
Tauriko School principal Suzanne Billington said there were two children with RSV who were off sick on Friday out of 12 students who had stayed home sick. The school had 283 students.
However, three other Tauranga primary schools said they had not had any RSV cases.
Bellevue School principal Anna Meehan said they were not aware of any cases at the school, but there had been "a bit of a high absent rate this week".
"But that's just general sickness from what we can tell," she said.
Kamai School principal Justin Bertrand said they had been experiencing higher levels of sickness rates but students "just had colds".
"It's probably been averaging between five and 10 [students off sick] for the last fortnight – it has been noticeable."
Kaimai School had 100 students.
Papamoa Primary School principal Lisa Morresey said: "RSV has not affected our school community that we are aware of."
An Early Childhood Council spokesperson said they only had "anecdotal data" for RSV cases after running a poll among their members.
"Overwhelmingly, people are seeing spikes in parents keeping kids home because they're ill with this," he said.
"It's certainly having a big impact on centres at the moment.
"There's certainly been a spike [in kids staying home] in the last 10 days ... as RSV has come on the scene," he said.
"We want everyone to stay safe and do the right thing and stay home if they're sick."
In a media statement, the Early Childhood Council called for more support for early learning centres coping with the RSV outbreak.
"We're told this outbreak is business as usual – it doesn't feel that way to us," chief executive officer Peter Reynolds said.
"Anecdotally, centres suddenly have up to half their rolls missing. Ideally, providers would be receiving clear communication to pass on to their centre communities, and reassurance that they'll continue to get support from the ministry in circumstances of financial hardship," Reynolds said.