Respiratory virus: What parents in Norway need to know

Cases of RSV, a common virus that affects the respiratory tract in children and adults, have increased to 135 registered cases in the last week compared to 36 cases the week before, according to Norway’s health authority NIPH.

Norway's health authorities have issued information about seasonal respiratory virus RS.
Norway's health authorities have issued information about seasonal respiratory virus RS. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The virus (Respiratory syncytial virus) usually causes cold-like symptoms but can give more serious respiratory infections in some cases.

“The increase in respiratory symptoms is being seen particularly in children and adults up to their forties, which fits well with the trend of children and their parents getting sick,” NIPH’s senior medical consultant Margrethe Greve-Isdahl said in a statement.

Although a seasonal increase in cases of the RSV is normal, it has begun earlier in the autumn than usual, according to NIPH.

The trend, which has also been observed in neighbouring Sweden and Denmark, has been linked to lower immunity in the population because social distancing measures taken against Covid-19 in 2020 also reduced the spread of other seasonal infections.

Outbreaks of RSV are usually most common between November and May.

Most adults and children usually experience the virus as a cold-like illness. In some cases, however, a more serious infection can persist in the respiratory system.

Infants under the age of 1 year can risk developing bronchiolitis, a blockage of small airways in the lungs which can require hospitalisation.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 children aged 0-5 are hospitalised with RSV in Norway each year, according to NIPH.

“In recent weeks we’ve seen an increase in confirmed cases of several different respiratory viruses alongside increased respiratory symptoms in the population,” Greve-Isdahl said.

How does the virus present in children if symptoms become serious?

Bronchiolitis can cause coughing fits and breathlessness and can particularly affect infants but also children up to the age of five. Symptoms often begin as a cold and develop over a few days. The virus can cause a loss of appetite in children. Breastfeeding mothers may notice a buildup of milk, NIPH writes.

“If you are concerned about your poorly child, it’s important to contact the health service. Children who are struggling to breathe should be seen by a doctor. Generally, the threshold for contacting a doctor should be lower the younger the child is,” Greve-Isdahl said.

What can parents do?

NIPH recommends parents keep children with new cold-like symptoms home from school, nursery or kindergarten, because respiratory infections are most easily transmitted during the first few days of illness.

Children can return to school or daycare once they no longer have a fever and most symptoms are receding, and the child feels themselves again. It’s okay for children to still have a runny nose, for example, if their symptoms have otherwise returned to normal.

The health authority also recommends avoiding visits to families with infants or women in the late stages of pregnancy if you have any cold-like symptoms.

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Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office