A virus with COVID-like symptoms is spreading at unusually high rates in children across southeast Queensland amid fears lockdowns have lowered immunity to it.

Hospitals and GPs have reported a "significant spike" in the number of people - primarily young children - presenting with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Queensland Children's Hospital recorded a 55 per cent spike in respiratory presentations, which include RSV, in February compared to the same time last year and a 45 per cent increase in January.

Mandy Claxton from The Gap, in Brisbane’s west, with four-year-old daughter Zoe, who is being treated for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Picture: Richard Walker
Mandy Claxton from The Gap, in Brisbane’s west, with four-year-old daughter Zoe, who is being treated for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Picture: Richard Walker

March presentations were expected to be even higher due to the surge of RSV noted by Brisbane GPs and medical experts.

AMA Queensland president Professor Chris Perry said despite a reduction in RSV last year as a result of lockdowns and restrictions, there had been a sudden significant spike in presentations as Queenslanders socialised again.

"We've had a year without building immunity to this common virus and there is a chance that RSV has also mutated leaving us even more vulnerable," Professor Perry said.

"Even though we've not seen an increase in RSV in other parts of the state, it may just be a matter of time as it's highly contagious.

"We need to make sure that everyone across the state, in metropolitan and regional areas, stays at home if they're sick so we don't spread viruses throughout the community."

General Practice Gold Coast chair Dr Katrina McLean said their respiratory clinics had seen hundreds of children with RSV so far this month, as well as adults with the virus.

"I've seen some very unwell elderly patients with RSV," she said.

The common virus which can cause croup generally results in minor illness in most people, however, it can be severe in people with weakened immune systems and young children.

Symptoms may include a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, and headache.

Ebony Williams, while she was in the Mater Children's Hospital with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. A clinical trial into a vaccine for pregnant women to protect their babies from developing RSV has begun in Brisbane. Picture: Supplied
Ebony Williams, while she was in the Mater Children's Hospital with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. A clinical trial into a vaccine for pregnant women to protect their babies from developing RSV has begun in Brisbane. Picture: Supplied

Queensland Health urged the public, including children, to be tested for coronavirus even if RSV is suspected.

"Many symptoms of RSV can mirror COVID-19 symptoms," a spokesman said.

"We remind all Queenslanders to continue being cautious and anyone experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms such as a runny nose, fever, cough or sore throat, should get tested and isolate until they receive their result and their symptoms resolve."

Mater Health Services director of infectious diseases Paul Griffin said RSV cases fluctuate each year, like the flu, but that this year's cases seem higher than before the pandemic.

The Gap mum Mandy Claxton took her 4-year-old daughter Zoe to the Queensland Children's Hospital last week as her RSV became "horrendous".

She said the hospital was "full" of children with the virus.

"We had no real idea what RSV was, just that it was more common in babies, but due to Zoe's asthma this virus has been relentless," she said.

"She had lots of high temperatures, a wet cough, laboured breathing and because some of the symptoms look very similar to COVID, this added another layer of worry."

The prep student was tested for COVID-19 as a precaution and returned a negative result.

Originally published as COVID-like virus RSV surges among southeast QLD children


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