A consultant paediatrician at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork has said she is treating more children with winter type bugs and that children in hospital have a large viral load.

Dr Niamh Lynch said that parents need to be aware of the fact that children have not been exposed to a number of illnesses due to the pandemic and as a result they may be more sick, more regularly.

"We are seeing viruses on the ward that we usually would typically see in winter."

She said the hospital where she is based feels "winter busy" and this is being echoed across the country as viruses are being seen that are usually just seen in winter.

"Your typical scenario when you come onto the ward is that you hear a lot of nebulisers running in the background and you will have children needing oxygen ... that's usually a winter pattern.

"But this weekend I walked onto the ward to that sound and I just thought, gosh, this really feels like November," she explained.

Dr Lynch said that typically parents and children get respite in the summer from sickness, but she warned that parents need to be aware of their children in respiratory distress this year.

"Parents need to be alert to the fact that their children might be displaying symptoms of respiratory distress and they need to be aware of it, even in the summer months this year."

She said that babies can mask symptoms as they cannot communicate, so parents need to read the physical signs.

"Things to look out for - are they drinking as normal? What is their breathing like? Are they working hard to breath? Can you see their little neck muscles moving or their ribs sucking in and out?

"Do they have a cough? Are they as alert as they would usually be or do they look lethargic and what is their colour like?"

Dr Lynch said the reason for the increase is to do with society changing its behaviour.

"You have cohorts of children who really haven't been exposed to things and who are now going out into the world and meeting all those viruses....so they can get quite sick and it can be quite disruptive for families," she added.

When they test children in hospitals for viruses, they are seeing "traces of multiple viruses".

"We have had children in hospital, in recent months, who had signs or traces of multiple viruses that they have been fighting," she said.

Dr Lynch explained that the typical toddler would have one viral infection a month but that chain of pattern has now changed and a minority of the children end up in hospital, but those that do have a high viral load.

"Most children are absolutely fine, it's the minority that end up in hospitals, but obviously they can be quite sick because they have a high viral load," she added.

On Covid cases, Dr Lynch said the level of infection amongst children is the same as the general population.