Experts raise concern as surge in contagious virus cases threatens Aussie babies and seniors

As the leaves turn and the chill of winter approaches, Australian families are facing a health alert that's particularly concerning for the youngest and oldest among us.

The culprit? A highly contagious virus known as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has already affected tens of thousands of Australian babies and is expected to surge as the colder months set in.

In the first half of 2024 alone, over 47,000 cases of RSV have been recorded in children under the age of five, and the numbers are only expected to rise.

In light of these alarming statistics, the Immunisation Foundation of Australia launched an RSV Awareness Week on Sunday, June 2, to educate the public and advocate for better protection measures.

Over 47,000 cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have affected Australian infants and toddlers in the first 5 months of 2024 alone. Credits: Shutterstock

RSV is not a new threat; it's a common respiratory virus that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

However, in infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, it can lead to more severe respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchiolitis.

Alarmingly, this year has seen a spike in cases, with 70 per cent of RSV infections occurring in children under five and more than 13,000 cases in individuals aged 60 and over.

The situation is dire enough that experts like Hannah Moore, Head of Infectious Disease at the Telethon Kids Institute, are raising the alarm.

‘There are certainly higher rates at the moment for this time of year than what we have seen in previous years,’ she cautioned.

‘RSV affects mainly young children and infants, really infants under the age of six months, those that are at the highest risk of severe disease.’

The response to this growing health crisis has been varied across the country. Western Australia, Queensland, and New South Wales have taken proactive steps by implementing RSV infant immunisation programs.

However, other states and territories lag behind, leaving many children unprotected.

The risk is not evenly distributed. Premature infants, Aboriginal peoples, and those with weakened immune systems or neurological conditions are at a higher risk of severe infection from RSV.

According to the Immunisation Foundation of Australia, nationwide infant RSV immunisation could prevent an estimated 10,000 hospital admissions annually.

Dr Lisa McHugh, an Infectious Diseases and Perinatal Epidemiologist at the University of Queensland, warned that the number of active infections is expected to climb as temperatures drop.

‘At the start of winter, we've already recorded nearly two-thirds [of] the total number of RSV cases reported in 2023. This is well ahead of the normal curve,’ she explained.

‘Without immunisation, we know that around 12,000 Australian babies are hospitalised with pneumonia and bronchiolitis caused by RSV each year, with one-in-four requiring intensive care.’

‘It's wonderful that for the first time, we can protect babies and the elderly from RSV, but it's not sustainable to have infant immunisation programs in some states and not others, nor to ask older Australians to pay hundreds of dollars each year for RSV protection,’ she added.

Dr McHugh and other infectious disease experts are taking this issue to the Federal Parliament House today, June 4, hoping to brief parliamentarians on the latest research into RSV and the urgent need for a unified response.

As the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to spread across Australia, particularly affecting vulnerable populations like babies and the elderly, the healthcare system is facing significant strain.

This contagious virus, which can cause severe respiratory issues such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, led to a surge in hospitalisations and increased healthcare burden.

In parallel to the RSV outbreak, state health authorities are also grappling with a surge of COVID-19-like illnesses, further straining the healthcare system.

This dual challenge underscores the importance of robust public health strategies and the need for timely vaccinations to protect at-risk populations and ease the load on healthcare facilities.
Key Takeaways
  • Tens of thousands of Australian babies have been infected with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), with over 47,000 cases reported in children under five.
  • Infection rates are expected to worsen during the winter months, leading to calls for increased public health interventions.
  • Some states in Australia have commenced RSV infant immunisation programs, but there is no nationwide program, leading to disparities in vaccine access.
  • Experts are urging state-funded RSV immunisation programs to prevent hospitalisations and provide uniform protection, especially for vulnerable groups like infants and the elderly.
Have you or someone you know been affected by this virus? What do you advise others to protect themselves from contracting it? Let us know your stories and suggestions in the comments below.
I had RSV a few years ago and never want it again. I asked my GP about the vaccination for adults but it costs $300, a lot of money when on the pension. She said the Government may bring it down. As an at risk person, I would be very grateful if the Government helped to subsidise this vaccination. I think all children should be protected as well. It is a shocker of a virus and I would hate to see a little one go through what I went through.
People can wonder why the disease is spreading when they put their infants into grocery trolleys ?? Why are the parents allowed to do that ?
My daughter always wipes the trolley with detol wipes before putting her daughter in it. Most of the time she shops at night when hubby is home to watch the girls
My daughter and her family had RSV maybe 6 months ago and said it was the worst flu she has ever had.

My son and another daughter had influenza A and said that was the worst flu they have ever had. They all said both viruses were much worst than Covid 19 .

I had a bad flu a couple of weeks ago which was one of the worst I've had, really attacked my chest and 3 weeks later still coughing . I did a test and Didn't show up covid or influenza a / b
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Reactions: Jersey Girl and Liz
HI. Yes I believe that's the virus I have. Starts off with a very sore throat and a lot of nasal congestion and then moves to the airways and chest. Terrible cough and fluid in the lungs I'm finding hard to shake. 1 dose of antibiotics and am about to start another. A very bad virus.
I was hospitalised for a month last year after contracting RSV that progressed to Pneumonia. It was terrible. I have a weakened immune system. I couldn't believe when I went to the Dr's a couple of weeks ago to talk about getting vaccinated under the presumption that it would be free, and to be told that it would cost me in excess of $300! This is rediculous & unreachable for many of us and unfortunately, the script is still sitting in my handbag!
I'm 75 years old and have had RSV twice. The first time was the sickest I have ever been in my life! I sat for 3 days (easier than lying down) using my CPAP machine non-stop just so I could breathe. If it hadn't been for that, I know I would have ended up in hospital. It took months for the cough to leave me. I am never sick! I catch nothing but have now had RSV twice. The 2nd time wasn't as bad thankfully. I think it's more prevalent than we think as it is so similar to a bad flu. But if you get it badly, it is deadly....literally.
Gosh how many years have we been putting our children in the trolley seats without worrying if there were germs on there. I must have been a neglectful mother. Seems it didn't hurt them though. They are healthy grown adults.
l lived in Ilkley in West Yorkshire when my children were little.We had no food markets and went from shop to shop pushing a pram not a pushchair.l put all my groceries around the sides of the pram hoping it wouldn't tip with the weight.
Whatever happened to natural immunity? I thought if we ate plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, we would not get these colds or the symptoms would be reduced.
Natural immunity disappeared from earth, the same time sheeple started becoming test dummies for a trial drug being given out under the guise of being a safe and effective “vaccine “ which it cannot be called a vaccine, as it hasn’t met any guidelines that a vaccine would go through.
Now all those who partook in the experiment, and still are , are carrying around and spreading Covid.
Don’t believe me,,,,, well remember how to fly over seas or get on a cruise liner you needed to be vaccinated and boosted ? Remember how everyone onboard ended up sick ?? Yeah is it making sense now ?? If you still say No, then go get another shot, no help for you !
Did you ever get vaccinated against polio and smallpox? If not, you are very lucky that the rest of the world did.
Remember how everyone who partook in the experiment, was coerced into saying to those who didn’t, ,,don’t you care about anyone but yourself ??

Isn’t this now a case of the same ? Very glad that everyone but me took part in the experiment!
PS; Remember phlydimide (not spelt correctly) in the 50-60’s to stop morning sickness ? How did that work out, ? Short memory out there !

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