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Hawkesbury mother urges vigilance after child falls ill

Jul 9, 2023

In a harrowing account of her own ordeal, Hawkesbury mother Alyssa Bennett is raising the alarm for parents, urging them to stay vigilant and act swiftly if they suspect their child may be sick. Bennett’s distressing experience with her daughter Imogen serves as a reminder of the severity of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) illness and the need for increased awareness.

“I presented to Nepean emergency with my seven-week-old who was RSV positive (day 2), she had mild work of breathing, was sniffly and a little off her milk. A senior doctor sent me home to monitor her and I felt a bit silly for wasting their time. I decided to take her back a few hours later that night as she was working harder to breathe and something didn’t feel right….she began to quickly decline and needed to be put on high flow oxygen, given an NG tube, needed regular suctioning and was put on antibiotics as a preventative measure for pneumonia,” she sad.

It wasn’t until Imogen was unresponsive that she was transferred to Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick. Alyssa said it was the “most terrifying moment of my life.”

“It’s spreading rapidly among the childcare centers in our area, and I’m deeply concerned about the lack of awareness regarding its seriousness,” Bennett said. 

“We nearly lost our daughter last year when she was just two months old due to this virus. It was a three-week-long battle in the hospital, with an entire week spent in the intensive care unit, where she was sedated and put on a ventilator until she finally started showing signs of recovery. 

“Unfortunately, not everyone was as fortunate. The ICU was filled with young children suffering from RSV, and yet, most people I speak to have never even heard of it,” she said.

Seven week old Imogen’s condition deteriorated after two days at Nepean hospital. She was transferred to Sydney Children’s Hospital when she became unresponsive and spent the next few weeks in ICU.

Bennett’s plea to parents dealing with RSV is to trust their instincts and seek immediate medical attention for their little ones.

“I really want parents to realise that this virus is hitting little ones hard and they deteriorate so quickly so please be hyper vigilant and don’t second guess yourself! Especially because they usually get worse with this virus before they get better.”

 “If you suspect your child has RSV, please don’t hesitate to take them to the hospital!” she said.

RSV is the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children. Although RSV presentations remain moderate overall this year, children under the age of four are disproportionately affected, accounting for more than 56 percent of the reported cases, with 17,631 notifications this year. Unlike influenza there is currently no vaccine generally available for RSV.

The urgency of Bennett’s warning coincides with the NSW Department of Health’s call for parents to ensure their children between the ages of five and sixteen receive the flu vaccine. With concerns mounting over escalating influenza rates and hospitalizations among children, health officials are urging parents to schedule flu vaccinations for their children during the school holidays.

“We have observed a 37 percent increase in emergency department presentations for influenza-like illness and a 30 percent rise in hospital admissions in the week leading up to July 2, compared to the previous week,” Dr. Kerry Chant, the Chief Health Officer of NSW Health said.

Children under 16 years old account for approximately half of all emergency department visits for influenza-like illness, accounting for around 40 percent of all hospital admissions related to flu during the past week. 

Since May, 16 children have been admitted to intensive care at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and John Hunter Hospital due to life-threatening complications arising from influenza. Complications include severe cardiac, neurological, and muscular problems.

The charts show influenza and RSV presentations by age in NSW this year.  (Chart 1 – Influenza. Chart 2 – RSV).

“In recent weeks, we have observed a rapid increase in influenza cases among very young children and those aged between five and sixteen years old. These two age groups frequently account for nearly half of all diagnosed flu cases in NSW each week,” Dr. Chant said. “Regrettably, our children’s hospitals are witnessing a growing number of these children requiring medical care, and some of them are critically ill,” she said.

To protect children from the dangers of influenza and mitigate the risk of hospitalisation, Dr. Chant urged parents to vaccinate their children. “The most effective measure parents can take to safeguard their children’s well-being this winter, and to reduce the likelihood of hospitalisation due to influenza, is to ensure their children receive the flu vaccine if they haven’t already done so.”

For more information about RSV follow this link – Respiratory syncytial virus (nsw.gov.au)

For more information about Influenza follow this link – Influenza (nsw.gov.au)

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