The signs of 6 childhood winter bugs every parent must know – as RSV cases rise | The Sun

AS the temperature drops, it's likely your child will pick up a nasty bug or two.

From the common cold to scarlet fever, there are lots of illnesses making the rounds during the winter months.

We tend to see more bugs this time of year because of how we live during the cooler seasons, explains TV Pharmacist Thorrun Govind.

She tells Sun Health: "Kids – and adults – spend more time cooped up inside during the winter.

"Indoors, there tend to be more people and less ventilation than outside, meaning you're more likely to come into contact with bugs.

"On top of that, the cooler weather leaves our body less effective at fighting bugs."

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Here are the six bugs to watch out for this winter:

1. RSV

Cases of some winter illnesses are already on the rise – including deadly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), new figures show.

According to UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data, there has been a nine per cent surge in cases among under 5s during the week ending October 29, compared to the week before.

The virus typically causes cold-like symptoms but can also trigger lung infections like pneumonia and bronchiolitis in infants and elderly people, which require hospitalisation and can be fatal.

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RSV cases followed a similar trajectory to last winter when infections were higher than usual due to kids having lower immunity after staying home during the various Covid lockdowns.

In the UK, about 30,000 babies and children under five need hospital treatment every year due to RSV, though fewer than 90 now die from it.

The NHS says the signs of RSV you must know include:

  • Your child’s breathing is becoming more difficult
  • They aren't feeding well
  • They have dry nappies for 12 hours or longer
  • Your child is more sleepy or less alert than usual
  • Your child’s temperature is above 37.5 degrees

2. Colds

A bug everyone should be aware of is rhinovirus, more commonly known as the common cold.

Speaking to Sun Health, Professor John Tregoning, of Imperial College London says the bug usually peaks in about October but "never really goes away".

It's normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year, official guidance states.

This is because young children haven't built up their immunity to bugs yet, as adults have.

However, they're rarely serious.

"While they can be abit more serious in children with asthma, they are self-resolving and, like all viral infections, do not need antibiotics," he adds.

Rhinovirus infections have fallen slightly in recent weeks after surging at the beginning of September when the weather got cooler, and kids went back to school, the UKHSA data dashboard suggests.

Of the random group tested, 15 per cent were positive for the bug on October 23, compared with 24 per cent on October 2, UKHSA surveillance data suggests.

According to the NHS, the main signs of a cold include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • coughs
  • sneezing
  • a raised temperature
  • pressure in your ears and face
  • loss of taste and smell

If a child has a cold, it might last longer than it would in an adult.

3. Flu

Another virus many parents will be familiar with is flu, or influenza.

Infection rates and hospitalisations of flu are currently stable across all age groups, according to UKHSA data.

But cases will likely rise in the coming weeks, peaking around Christmas time, Prof John says.

Hospitalisations are currently highest among the elderly, the figures show.

"Children don’t get a very severe infection – but the major risk here is passing it onto elderly relatives," he adds.

The NHS suggests getting your child vaccinated, which protects the child and can reduce transmission to others.

Children from reception up to year 11 will be offered the free flu vaccine in schools this year.

When it comes to the flu, the NHS says you must look out for the following:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

Children may also experience pain in their ears, and they may appear less active.

4. Scarlet fever & Strep A

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness mainly affecting children caused by the Strep A bacteria.

The nasty bug can lead to tonsillitis, skin infections, and, in very serious cases, a life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS).

Cases of scarlet fever and strep A are slightly raised, but UKHSA experts say infection rates are still within "normal" levels for this time of year.  

Cases of Strep A surged last winter, peaking in December – this led to severe antibiotic shortages.

During that time, a total of 426 people – including 48 children – died with iGAS in England.

So far this season, there have been 1,233 cases of scarlet fever and 216 invasive group A streptococcus infections – slightly higher than usual for this time of year.

By comparison, the UKHSA report said there were 61,442 cases of scarlet fever seen last winter season and 4,412 cases of iGAS.

Commenting on the rise in cases, Dr Theresa Lamagni, an epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "Scarlet fever and invasive Group A strep is currently at low levels but starting to show slight increases in line with what we would normally see at this time of year.

"Numbers of cases are currently below this same period last year and considerably lower than the high levels seen last December."

The NHS says you should watch out for:

  • a sore throat
  • skin infection, including blisters or impetigo
  • a large itchy pink or red rash on the skin
  • headache
  • a high temperature
  • flushed cheeks
  • a swollen tongue
  • wollen neck glands
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • red lines in the folds of the body, such as the armpit, which may last a couple of days after the rash has gone
  • a white coating on the tongue, which peels a few days later leaving the tongue red and swollen (this is known as strawberry tongue)

5. Norovirus

Norovirus is a bug many parents fear most.

Dubbed the "winter vomiting bug", norovirus does exactly what it says on the tin: it causes violent sickness and often diarrhoea.

Outbreaks are common where people have close contact, such as in schools and nurseries, according to the UKHSA.

Thankfully, cases of the sickness bug appear to have fallen 17 per cent over the last fortnight, new data suggests.

Some 133 laboratory reports were confirmed between October 9 and October 20, 23 per cent lower than expected for this time of year.

According to the NHS website, you likely have norovirus if you experience a sudden sick feeling, projectile vomiting, and watery diarrhoea.

The main symptoms are:

  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Being sick (vomiting)
  • A high temperature
  • A headache
  • Aching arms and legs

6. Covid

Covid is usually quite mild in kids over the age of four.

"In most children, this will present as a cold, indistinguishable from other viruses," the expert says.

Despite the WHO declaring the end of the international health emergency earlier this year, coronavirus remains in circulation.

However, cases of the nasty illness appear to be falling.

In the week leading up to October 28, infections fell by 28 per cent across the UK, according to UKHSA surveillance data.

Brits are still being encouraged to get jabbed against the bug.

Last month, the new Covid vaccination drive was brought forward due to fears over the Pirola variant.

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Data from experts at the ZOE Symptom Tracker app states that the ten most common symptoms of Covid-19 include:

  • Sore throat 
  • Blocked nose
  • Headache
  • Cough no phlegm
  • Runny nose 
  • Sneezing
  • Cough with phlegm
  • Hoarse voice
  • Muscle pain aches
  • Fatigue

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