| 16 Jul 2021

RSV and other viruses: public health advice and hospital visitor restrictions

Timaru, like other regions in New Zealand, is experiencing an increase in respiratory illness. Currently the Timaru Hospital has a number of patients of different ages (children, pregnant woman to elderly) with varying levels of unwellness with RSV and respiratory-type illnesses.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the causes of illness that has been identified. Like rhinovirus that causes colds, RSV is a common virus that affects all age groups but is especially severe for infants less than one year old, for older people and people who are immunocompromised. It is very infectious and can easily pass from person to person through coughing and sneezing. For older children and adults, it typically causes a worse-than-average cold.

People infected with RSV are usually contagious for five to eight days. It is most easily spread from people who are coughing and sneezing a lot and are in the earlier stages of the illness. However, some infants and people with weakened immune systems may spread the virus for longer so they need to be very careful not to mix with infants under one and vulnerable people, while they are still infectious with symptoms.

Visiting Timaru Hospital

As a result of this outbreak, the South Canterbury DHB are restricting visitor access to protect vulnerable patients. We ask people to not visit wards if they have had fever, cough, sore throat, or runny nose in the past 24 hours and advise that children under 16 not visit a hospital unless there is a clear medical need. To protect vulnerable patients, the following restrictions are in place:

  • No children under the age of 16 to visit patients in hospital, unless prior arrangements made
  • General hospital visits are restricted to one person per patient
  • Maternity and Children’s Wards are restricted to one support and one visitor per patient.

RSV symptoms and what to do if you have them

RSV symptoms include a runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever (often mild) and/or wheeze. In some cases, it can cause more serious illness such as bronchiolitis (narrowing of airways in infants) and pneumonia. Very young infants (especially premature babies and those exposed to smoking), older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are more at risk.

  • If you have RSV-like symptoms and are concerned or are getting worse, you should contact your GP or Healthline (0800 611 116) for assessment and advice
  • Early medical advice is especially important for those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart and lung disease and some autoimmune diseases, or for severely overweight people and pregnant women
  • Do not return to childcare, school or work until your symptoms have resolved.

When to seek urgent advice

Parents and caregivers should seek urgent medical advice if a child has symptoms and also:

  • is under three months old
  • is breathing fast, noisily or is having to use extra effort to breathe
  • looks pale and unwell
  • is taking less than half their normal feeds
  • is vomiting
  • has not had a wet nappy for more than six hours.

Parents and caregivers should call 111 for an ambulance if a child:

  • has blue lips and tongue
  • has severe difficulty breathing
  • is becoming very sleepy and not easy to wake up
  • is very pale
  • is floppy
  • has breathing that is not regular, or pauses in breathing.

How to prevent the spread of RSV and other viruses

  • Keep children home when they are unwell; they should not attend day-care centres or kindergarten
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue
  • Regularly wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty second and dry them thoroughly
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • People with underlying medical conditions who are at increased risk of complications are strongly encouraged to avoid contact with sick people and have good hand washing practices
  • If correctly worn, masks are valuable to both prevent spread from infected people and reduce the risk of getting infected if you are close to people who may be infectious.

All information can be attributed to Lisa Blackler, Director Patient, Nursing, Midwifery.

For more information, contact:

Karen Berry
Communications Manager
021 139 7442