Jasmine Stefanovic and daughter Harper are joining Australian families from all walks of life to shine a light on a potentially life-threatening yet little-known virus this winter.
Following a “terrifying experience” which saw then two-year-old Harper rushed to hospital, Mrs Stefanovic is supporting a new campaign to raise community awareness of RSV (or respiratory syncytial virus), an unpredictable virus that puts thousands of Australian infants in hospital each year and can cause serious long-term health issues.
The RSV and Me campaign comes as a new report reveals that RSV hospitalises more Australian children in their first year of life (approximately 12,000 per year on average) than any other respiratory virus, including influenza.
Immunisation Foundation of Australia founder Catherine Hughes thanked Mrs Stefanovic for her support of the inaugural RSV Awareness Week (4-10 June), which includes a call for Australian parents and caregivers to share their #RSVandMe stories as a way to provide peer support and raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms.
“As the Stefanovics and other Australian families have discovered, RSV is unpredictable and can be very serious. We are all hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s record number of hospital admissions due to RSV,” Ms Hughes said.
Mrs Stefanovic explained that “the first time Karl and I heard the letters RSV was when Harper was in hospital struggling to breathe”.
She recounted how quickly their concern turned to panic last winter: "Initially, Harper had the sniffles and a cough, and we assumed she just had a bit of a cold. But within hours, she deteriorated; it was alarming to see how hard she was working to breathe, with her little ribs sucking in and tummy pulling up into her chest”.
“While I knew in my heart that Harper needed medical help, I wasn’t sure at first if I was overreacting. Thankfully, my gut instinct took over and we were soon with a GP and then on our way to hospital.
“It was a long night as we sat in the hospital ward beside Harper, trying to comfort her as a medical team worked to help her breathe.
“It’s been almost a year since our awful experience with RSV, and Harper still has a lingering wheeze. Doctors have explained that RSV can have a range of long-term health effects. We’ll be keeping a close eye on her this winter.
“We are sharing our RSV story in the hope that it will help other parents understand the realities of the virus and know when to seek medical help,” said Mrs Stefanovic.
Katherine Kieran, a mother of four from Perth, echoes this sentiment, recalling the trauma of seeing her two-month-old baby Hazel unresponsive and “like a zombie” as a result of RSV.
Baby Hazel was admitted to intensive care, required resuscitation, suffered a collapsed lung, and endured eight days in an induced coma, fed through a tube.
Mrs Kieran says she warns all of her friends about the risks of RSV – especially in newborns. “Hospital care saved Hazel’s life and we didn’t have a moment to lose,” she said. “Parents need to follow their gut and act quickly when a baby’s health starts to deteriorate”.
Ms Hughes is also sharing her personal #RSVandMe story. “Thousands of Australian families have been impacted by severe RSV, including my own,” she said.
“In the winter of 2016, just 18 months after our four-week-old son Riley had died from the complications of whooping cough, my husband and I confronted the realities of RSV when three-week old Lucy was rushed to hospital.
“Being back in hospital with an infant requiring acute respiratory care was a traumatic experience, made even worse by the guilt that I knew so little about RSV.
“Thankfully, with great medical care, Lucy recovered quickly. Many families are not so fortunate,” said Ms Hughes.
The Immunisation Foundation Australia is hopeful that RSV will soon become a vaccine-preventable illness. However until that occurs, the Foundation wants all Australians responsible for the wellbeing of an infant to learn more about RSV, how to prevent infection, ways to minimise its impact, and importantly know when to seek medical care.
“It’s important that caregivers know the signs that may indicate severe disease, trust their gut, and seek medical attention when it’s needed,” said Ms Hughes.
In infants, the symptoms of RSV are similar to many other respiratory viruses and include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, loss of appetite, lethargy and irritability.
RSV can cause bronchiolitis or pneumonia, so medical care is important for infants who display symptoms of severe RSV including a high fever, shortness of breath and a greater effort required to breathe.
Signs that a baby may have bronchiolitis or pneumonia include:
· Rapid breathing (more than 40 breaths per minute)
· Laboured breathing, where the child’s chest caves in between and under the ribs
· Up and down head movements and/or grunting while breathing
· Flared nostrils
· Blue tint or changes to skin colour around the mouth and eyes
Experts now also believe that severe RSV in infancy can potentially affect a child’s long-term health, increasing their risk of asthma, wheezing and allergies.
“The message is clear. RSV is too serious and unpredictable to delay medical care. Babies and young children can deteriorate very quickly. If you suspect your child has severe RSV, don’t delay – seek urgent medical attention,” concluded Ms Hughes.
Join the #RSVandMe conversation, or find out more about RSV at: www.ifa.org.au/RSVandMe
Media contacts: John Morton, 0416 184 044 or Candice Hitchcock, 0466 586 758
RSV hospitalises more Australian children in their first year of life (approximately 12,000 per year on average) than any other respiratory virus, including influenza.
John Morton, 0416 184 044