Why Is There A Sudden Spike In Bronchiolitis Cases Among Infants, Young Children? Doctors Explain

New Delhi: Seasonal changes due to the fast-approaching winter is causing a sudden spike in the number of bronchiolitis cases, caused due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, in children, according to experts. They have warned parents to ensure proper hygiene and appropriate ventilation at home.

Dr Tushar Parikh, consultant neonatologist and paediatrician, Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi, Pune, told The Indian Express that bronchiolitis is a lung infection seen in infants and young children between 0-2 years.

“It leads to inflammation, swelling, and congestion in the small airways (bronchioles) of the lung, and is commonly seen ahead and during winter owing to cold weather. This condition causes breathing problems. Premature babies (discharged from the hospital) are more severely affected as their lungs are immature. Most cases of bronchiolitis are seen due to RSV, and the virus can spread via air when one coughs or sneezes or even handshakes. Germs can be present on hands, toys, faucets, doorknobs, tissues, and other surfaces. It is contagious for several days or even weeks. Children complain of symptoms like wheezing, cold, rapid breathing, dry cough, congested or runny nose, poor feeding, irritability, tiredness, fever, sneezing, and a headache for a week. I have treated around 100 children with this condition in the last 2 -3 months,” Dr Parikh was quoted as saying.

According to doctors, the number of children with cough, cold, and fever has gone up. On investigation, they test negative for COVID-19 but come positive for common cold viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or Parainfluenza viruses, leading to bronchiolitis.

Bronchiolitis usually occurs when RSV infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract. It occurs in young children, especially premature infants and those who have underlying lung disease, heart disease, or a weak immune system. This illness starts like common cold and may last for a week to a month. Treatment is saline nasal drops, oxygen, propped up position, and ensuring good fluid intake. Also, it must be noted that symptoms of RSV infection overlap with Covid-19,” Dr Pradeep Alhate, paediatrician, Apollo Spectra Hospital Pune told TIE.

“Other factors like preterm birth, underlying lung condition, when the children haven’t breastfed, second-hand smoke, spending a lot of time in crowded environments, and lack of hygiene can also be the culprits. Not treating children at the right time can lead to low SPO2 levels, dehydration, pauses in breathing, hospital admissions, viral pneumonia, and respiratory failure. Moreover, children with RSV likely be susceptible to Covid-19,” Dr Parikh was quoted as saying.

The solution is proper diagnosis and over-the-counter medication must be avoided, experts said. According to Dr Alhate, the treating doctor will decide the line of treatment. There is no vaccine to treat this condition. Taking precautions like avoiding kissing the baby or handshaking, wearing a mask near children, keeping the baby away from sick people, breastfeeding the baby, and keeping children hydrated can make a lot of difference.

Dr Parikh added that there is no specific treatment. “The infection goes away within a week or two. Some premature babies may get severely ill needing oxygen for which hospital or ICU admission is needed. Various measures like washing hands before touching children, avoiding social gatherings, and crowded places with the babies till they turn 1, cleaning and disinfecting the frequently touched surfaces, covering mouth while coughing, and sneezing near the baby, not smoking when the baby is around and washing the child’s toys regularly can be helpful in preventing bronchiolitis.”

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