RSV outbreak: Mother urges parents to take virus seriously after sick newborn admitted to ICU for a week

A mother with a newborn baby is pleading with parents to take RSV seriously after her daughter spent almost a week in ICU with the illness.

The outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has forced some DHBs across the North Island to implement visitor restrictions and enforce mask-wearing in high-risk wards.

As it spreads across the country, mum Sam Thompson wants parents to know what the risks of catching the virus can be.

When her newborn Goldie became sick at just one week old, Thompson thought she had caught a winter cold. 

"She lost 560 grams, maybe, of weight in that first couple of days and she just wasn't waking up, had slight fevers but not constant," she says.

But as her symptoms worsened, Goldie ended up in intensive care for five nights and needed a feeding tube and oxygen to help her breathe, all because she had RSV.

"It was scary just seeing all the tubes being inserted, taking blood tests and doing catheters. Putting the feeding tube in was a lot and then they put her on oxygen and that was probably when I started to lose it the most."

Cases of RSV in New Zealand's six main hospitals have been slowly rising since May, but in the past two weeks, they've more than doubled from 204 to 538 infections.

"We've got staff working all around the clock doing extra shifts, we're trying to find rooms wherever we can, but we're really struggling," Hawke's Bay medical officer of health Dr Nick Jones says.

Hutt Valley DHB and the Wellington region is the latest to implement restrictions on visitors. Children under 12 years old aren't allowed to visit the hospital unless there's a clear medical need, and no kids in the age group are allowed to visit the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU), the children's ward, and the maternity and delivery ward.

Hawke's Bay Hospital is asking visiting children to stay away, and they're also making some patients and staff wear face masks.

Starship and Waikato hospitals have cancelled surgeries and also set up extra beds to deal with the demand.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the number of RSV cases is worrying.

"We're certainly concerned about the sharp surge in RSV cases. This is a nasty illness," he says.

He adds that if there's a sense there isn't enough information on RSV in public, then he'd be happy to get some out there.