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The 4 winter illnesses that can prove deadly for kids – and the signs you must never ignore

AS it gets a little colder, it’s likely your little one will pick up a bug or two.

With that in mind, it’s important to know when it might be a little bit more than a cold and all the symptoms to be aware of.

Calls to NHS 111 have increased, meaning that many people are suffering with cold and flu like symptoms

Data from the government’s weekly Covid-19 and flu report has revealed that between October 31 and November 4, calls to NHS 111 for respiratory illnesses increased.

This, the experts say, is despite the fact that cases of bugs such as Covid and the flu have remained stable – with the highest number of incidents being in care homes.

However, these viruses spread easily and as children continue to mix in the run up towards Christmas, these may be passed from child to child.

Here we look at the four winter illnesses you need to be aware of.

1. RSV

The most recent data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have decreased by 7.4 per cent in the last week.

However, the report also states that the highest positivity rates remain in those under the age of 5.

RSV is a very common virus, which can prove life-threatening. Almost all children are infected with it by the time they are two years old.

In older children and adults, RSV symptoms include a cough, cold, runny nose and fever, the NHS says.



Guidance from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US states that RSV can cause severe infections such as bronchiolitis.

This is an inflammation of the small airways in the lung.

In the most severe cases, children might need additional oxygen or fluid, with some patients also having to have a breathing tube inserted.

The figures show that in the last week, the RSV hospitalisation rate has also continued to rise.

Experts at the Cleveland Clinic added that RSV can be life-threatening, especially in premature infants, babies younger than six-months-old or children with weakened immune systems.

The NHS says the signs of RSV you must know include:

  1. Your child’s breathing is becoming more difficult
  2. They aren’t feeding well
  3. They are having dry nappies for 12 hours or longer
  4. Your child is more sleepy or less alert than usual
  5. Your child’s temperature is above 37.5 degrees

2. Flu

Flu is prominent in the winter months, with eligible Brits being urged to come forward for their jabs.

Cases of the bug have remained stable in the last week, with those aged 15-44 having the majority of infections, followed by kids aged five to 14-years-old.

However, government data shows that hospitalisations for the flu have increased slightly – with admissions being highest in those over 75 and under five years-old.

Medics at John Hopkins Medicine said that in children with serious illness, flu could lead to lung infections such as pneumonia, or in extreme cases, death.

When it comes to the flu, the NHS says you must look out for the following:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

Children may also experience pain in their ears and they may appear less active.

3. Colds

We all know someone who’s got a sniffle or a cough during the winter.

The NHS says that colds are caused by viruses and are easily spread between people.

It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year, official guidance states.

This is because young children have no immunity and gradually build this up as they get older.

Colds usually go away on their own, but other infections can develop, which can be dangerous and deadly.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic say this includes pneumonia, croup or bronchiolitis.

According to the NHS, the main signs of a cold include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • coughs
  • sneezing
  • a raised temperature
  • pressure in your ears and face
  • loss of taste and smell

If a child has a cold, it might last longer than it would in an adult.

4. Covid

Covid cases have decreased in recent weeks, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) states.

The report from the UKHSA also states that hospitalisations and intensive care admissions for the illness decreased – with the majority of those being admitted, being over the age of 65.

Emergency department visits for Covid have also fallen, the report states.

Despite this, 1.5 million Brits were recorded as having the bug in the week ending November 1, ONS data shows.

Data from the CDC in the US and figures from the UKHSA state that children who are at risk of death and may become seriously unwell from the illness, include those who have underlying health conditions such as immunosuppression or with severe neurodisabilities.

A recent study by the UKHSA also confirmed that Covid-19 deaths are rare among children.

UKHSA consultant paediatrician Shamez Ladhani said: “Our national surveillance in England continues to show a very, very low risk of death due to Covid-19 in children and teenagers, with most fatalities occurring in those with multiple and life-limiting underlying conditions.”

Data from experts at the ZOE Symptom Tracker app states that the ten most common symptoms of Covid-19 currently include:

  1. Sore throat – 62.16 per cent
  2. Blocked nose – 53.77 per cent
  3. Headache – 53.35 per cent
  4. Cough no phlegm – 52.66 per cent
  5. Runny nose – 52.4 per cent
  6. Sneezing – 47.81 per cent
  7. Cough with phlegm – 43.11 per cent
  8. Hoarse voice – 42.53 per cent
  9. Muscle pain aches – 27.07 per cent
  10. Fatigue – 21.9 per cent

If you are worried about any symptoms that you or your child are struggling with, you should see your GP.

In an emergency, always call 999.

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