South Belfast GP says "winter has come early" as more children diagnosed with respiratory illnesses

By Jane Corscadden

A South Belfast GP has explained why a higher volume of children than would normally be expected at this time of year are coming down with respiratory illnesses.

As society begins to return to normal after coronavirus restrictions are eased, many people have said they have come down with the "worst cold ever".

So if you've been out and about lately, it's likely you've heard more people sniffling in shops or on public transport.

But Dr Ursula Brennan, GP at Mount Oriel Medical Practice in Belfast, said she wouldn't call it the worst cold ever but instead says it's like "winter has come early."

Speaking to Belfast Live, she said the higher volume of children coming down with respiratory illnesses is expected due to society mixing more as coronavirus restrictions ease.

Dr Brennan added: "The volume of respiratory illness is largely unchanged from my perspective. Certainly what I'm seeing at the moment are earlier cases of children with croup and bronchiolitis and we're seeing those in a higher volume than we'd normally expect at this point in the year.

"Probably the winter has come earlier, which isn't unexpected given the lockdown restrictions and the lockdown we had postponed the onset of mixing.

"Now we're seeing the restrictions have been lifted, people are circulating, they've increased their contacts, and certainly pediatric respiratory illnesses are becoming more apparent at this time of the year. We're seeing children with coughs, fever, and just a bit unwell."

However, she notes it's important to seek a PCR test if you develop a new persistent cough at any stage and to take up the flu vaccine if you're offered it.

Dr Brennan continued: "Any new cough can be covid - it doesn't sound any different from another respiratory illness."

"Whilst it may feel like a normal cough, there's still an important role for PCR testing. A negative PCR allows you to be able to be seen and assessed in a larger arena of services. It means people are able to be seen in their own GP surgeries.

"The flu begins to circulate at this time of year as well. GP practices are working exceptionally hard to deliver flu vaccines to protect patients, those above the age of 50, and those who are vulnerable."

Although noting that the "pandemic is far from over", the South Belfast GP also added that if you're feeling unwell and need additional support, you should reach out to your GP.

Dr Brennan said: "Don't feel frightened that you can't use services, sometimes it takes a few tries to get through to the GP surgery but we're here and our teams are really committed to answering the phone and navigating care to make sure patients are dealt with as quickly as possible."

Tips for managing symptoms of cold and flu

Dr Brennan has issued some simple advice for ways to treat the common cold or flu if you find yourself under the weather, as well as ways to reduce spreading illness to others:

  • Practice good nasal hygiene - use tissues then put them in the bin
  • Home treatment with paracetamol for aches and pains
  • Keep well hydrated and get plenty of rest
  • Good hand washing with soap and water
  • Link in with community pharmacy or GP practice for additional support if needed


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