RSV rates drop, raging winter illness keeps hospitals 'extremely busy'

Author
Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 3 Aug 2021, 11:35AM
Cases of the highly contagious RSV are declining in Canterbury but the region's main hospital is struggling with an influx of other winter illnesses. (Photo / 123RF)
Cases of the highly contagious RSV are declining in Canterbury but the region's main hospital is struggling with an influx of other winter illnesses. (Photo / 123RF)

RSV rates drop, raging winter illness keeps hospitals 'extremely busy'

Author
Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 3 Aug 2021, 11:35AM

Last week the Herald reported that across the country there were promising signs that the respiratory syncytial virus outbreak that has hit hundreds of children and swamped hospitals was subsiding.

Yesterday there were 33 adults and 13 children diagnosed with the condition at Christchurch Hospital alone.

That number could be higher as not all those assessed or admitted to hospital with respiratory illness were swabbed.

But Canterbury DHB executive director of nursing Becky Hickmott confirmed the drop in rates of the virus.

"There has been a decline in the number of children requiring assessment and admission with respiratory illness from the peak experienced in early to mid-July," she said.

"Numbers now are more typical of usual winter, with a range of severity of illness – we, as expected, continue to have some children requiring breathing support.

"While RSV is a serious disease for the very young, older adults, people with compromised immune systems and those with heart or lung conditions are also more seriously affected by RSV and other respiratory illness and we have seen an increase in numbers admitted and in acuity for these groups across numerous medical wards over recent weeks, not just paediatrics."

CDHB executive director of nursing Becky Hickmott. (Photo / CDHB)

Hickmott said urgent care clinics were still reporting "a lot" of respiratory illness, which continued to impact heavily on them.

"Recently they have been seeing presentations 10-15 per cent above the norm for this time of year, with many of the additional walk-in patients arriving in the first four hours which has flow-on effects that extend through the whole day," she explained.

"They are not seeing a decline in presentations.

"At the time that ED and the three urgent care clinics were seeing unprecedented numbers of children under 6, general practice teams were also kept busy with increased numbers of patients presenting with RSV and other respiratory symptoms, especially children."

Last night, CDHB chief medical officer Dr Helen Skinner appealed to people to keep away from the hospital's emergency department unless they needed urgent treatment.

"extremely busy" and warned anyone presenting with a non-urgent condition will likely be in for a long wait.

"Large numbers of presentations today coupled with unexpected staff sickness has resulted in longer waits for care, and for admission to hospital," she said.

"I want to apologise to those who are having to wait. It's not ideal, particularly for those who are unwell and need to be moved through to a ward."

Last night there were 527 patients in Christchurch Hospital, and a further 105 people being assessed and treated in the ED.

"While we are expecting some discharges today, the volume of patients coming in the front door is significant," said Skinner.

"If it's not urgent, please call your own general practice team first.

Dr Helen Skinner. (Photo / CDHB)

"After hours, follow the instructions on their answerphone to be put through to a nurse who can advise on what to do and where to go if you need to be seen."

Skinner said there was no single condition causing the issue - rather it was a "range of winter illnesses affecting both staff and the public".

"We usually see a lot of people on Mondays as many people tend to hold off seeking medical attention until after the weekend, however today is extra busy, and the unfortunate delays patients are experiencing are also due to staff shortages due to illness," she said.

"We have also had to defer some planned surgery which would require an overnight stay as we simply don't have sufficient beds as they are prioritised for people with acute medical problems."

On Friday the Herald reported that across Auckland, hospitalisation rates for RSV had fallen over the past two weeks.

WHAT IS RSV - THE FACTS

RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes respiratory tract infections, including the common cold.

Most adults and older children with RSV will experience symptoms similar to the common cold.

However, very young children and premature babies can become very sick and may require hospitalisation. In this age group RSV can cause bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small breathing tubes of the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lung).

Many children will be able to recover from this illness at home, but some will be admitted to hospital to support their feeding and to be given additional oxygen when that is needed.

Antibiotics are not usually helpful as it is a viral infection.

RSV and Covid-19 are both respiratory illnesses. If you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, head cold or loss of smell, with or without fever, stay at home and call your doctor or Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 to see if you need a test for Covid-19.

(Source: Ministry of Health)