The number of babies requiring hospitalisation with respiratory virus RSV is twice the expected rate, while an expert warns the peak is possibly yet to come.
Meanwhile, use of a steroid medication to treat RSV, prednisolone, significantly increased last month, with supply of the liquid form – generally used for children – reaching “critically low” levels, Pharmac revealed on Monday.
The latest ESR data shows there were 735 new cases of RSV across the country in the week to Sunday, July 11, up from 688 the week prior.
The current number of cases is more than twice as many than the historical average rate for this time of year in the five years from 2014-19, ESR public health physician Dr Sarah Jefferies said on Friday.
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The rate of hospitalisations of infants is also continuing to climb, with more than 1.75 cases per 1000 per week – twice the expected rate, she said.
Hospitalisations of children aged 1-4 with RSV decreased in the week to July 11, but the figures remain high.
Jefferies said ESR was also receiving increasing reports of outbreaks in early childcare settings across the country.
“The peak in national RSV illness activity is possibly still to come,” she said.
ESR’s surveillance of hospitalisations for severe acute respiratory infection shows the overall weekly rate in Auckland decreased compared with the previous week, and were now below the baseline seasonal threshold, Jefferies earlier said.
As of Monday afternoon, there is one infant with confirmed RSV and two babies with possible RSV in intensive care at Kidz First Hospital, in south Auckland.
One adult with confirmed RSV is in Middlemore Hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).
There are 23 children with RSV and respiratory-type illnesses in Wellington Hospital on Monday – six are in ICU.
Three children and one adult are in ICU in Christchurch Hospital.
College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty said general practices continued to be busy, with many “working to capacity”.
A week of school holidays didn’t appear to have made much of a dent in presentations to GP clinics for respiratory illnesses, including RSV, he said.
“At our clinic we haven’t seen any let up at this point,” he said.
However, Betty said doctors hoped cases of RSV would start to drop off in the coming weeks.
The ongoing outbreak has seen demand for liquid prednisolone – also used to treat asthma, Crohn’s and arthritis – nearly double.
On average, demand for prednisolone over the past 12 months was about 8500 bottles per month. In June, 15,500 bottles were ordered by community and hospital pharmacies.
Children hospitalised with RSV would not be impacted by any shortage as they have access to other treatments, but there was concern children in the community would not be able to access it, Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said.
Pharmac worked with the supplier, MFAT, Customs and the Port of Auckland to ensure stock could be available in pharmacies “as soon as possible”.
Stock was released to wholesalers on Thursday last week and was available to pharmacies to order from Friday.
Another order will be airfreighted to New Zealand before the end of the month, and the amount arriving monthly is being increased to ensure there is enough to go around, Williams said.