RSV outbreak: Hawke's Bay Hospital 'extremely busy' as virus continues spreading throughout New Zealand

Hawke's Bay Hospital says it is "extremely busy" as the number of patients with RSV continues to dominate hospitals around New Zealand.

Cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, have broken out among children in New Zealand this winter and are overwhelming hospitals.

The symptoms of RSV include audible wheezing sounds, fast or laboured breathing, the child seeming very unwell, and a sluggish or lethargic state. Additionally, pauses in breathing can be a severe symptom and signs of this, especially in the very young, mean they should be seen by a doctor urgently.

Hawke's Bay Hospital has postponed some elective surgeries and its restricted visiting policy is still in place as children and adults present with RSV.

There are 27 children currently in its paediatric ward, who mostly have respiratory illnesses, and other acute areas in the hospital such as the ICU and emergency department are still very busy. Just one infant needed ICU-level care on Tuesday. These numbers change as patients are discharged and others admitted.

Hawke's Bay Hospital chief medical and dental officer Dr Robin Whyman says RSV is now affecting adults, especially older people or those with underlying health conditions. While adults mostly tended to have milder RSV symptoms, it could cause severe illness in adults with underlying lung disease or a weakened immune system, he says.

Staff at the hospital have also been impacted because there was a lot of sickness among employees. 

"We have made the difficult decision to postpone eight elective surgeries today, and will review this again tomorrow to see if further surgeries during the week need to be postponed, to help reduce pressure on the hospital," Dr Whyman says.

While he says that urgent care and general practices are also busy, it's still important for people who are sick and progressively getting worse to get medical help early to help prevent a hospital admission later.

"It's very important that parents and caregivers keep children warm and at home and away from other children if they are sick. Children who had younger siblings or babies at home should be kept away from early childcare centres and kōhanga reo where possible," he says.

"The hand-washing, self-isolation and social distancing families followed so well during last year's COVID-19 lockdown are a good guide to the care we need to control this RSV outbreak."

People are asked to check in on older neighbours, friends, and family to see if they're okay.

At Hawke's Bay Hospital, no visitors are allowed in the special baby care unit, maternity birthing unit, primary birthing unit, and children's ward. No visitors are allowed in the rural Wairoa maternity unit either. Parents and guardians are the only people exempt from these restrictions.

The emergency department is limited to one support person per patient, and the intensive care unit is limited to two visitors per patient once a day.

Several district health boards across New Zealand including Whangārei, Wellington, Hutt Valley, and Auckland also have similar restrictions.

Cases of RSV arrived in Dunedin and Invercargill last week, and the children's ward was at capacity at Southland Hospital all week.