The Chief Medical Officer has said asking grandparents and older people to look after children with respiratory illnesses is putting them at risk because of rising cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and influenza.

Professor Breda Smyth said she is concerned after a record number of RSV cases were notified to health authorities in the past week.

Almost 650 cases of RSV were reported in Ireland in the past week.

It is the highest ever number ever recorded in the country, with the majority of cases in small children and the elderly. Flu cases are also rising sharply.

As a result, the health services are seeing more hospitalisations, which they say is putting additional pressure on the health system.

In a video message issued by the Department of Health, Professor Smyth appealed to people to get their flu vaccine.

She said while two third of over 65s have had their flu jab, the take up needs to be higher.

"Let's play our part in reversing this trend and protecting those who are vulnerable. Get your flu jab if you haven't already. Currently two thirds of adults aged 65 and older have had their flu jab. We need to get this higher," Prof Smyth said.

She also appealed to parents with sick children to keep them home from school and childcare until 48 hours after their symptoms have substantially resolved.

The CMO said that when children are home sick, many rely on grandparents or older relatives to look after them

But she said this is putting older people at risk and she appealed for parents to be mindful of this.

"If your children are sick keep them home from childcare or school until they are well. That is 48 hours after their symptoms have substantially resolved.

"When kids are at home sick many of us rely on grandparents and older relatives to help with childcare. However, this is putting our older relatives at risk, so please be mindful of this."

Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre shows there were 648 cases recorded in Ireland to between 7 and 13 November, with 65% of these cases were in the 0-4 age group.

The data also shows that 282 people were hospitalised with RSV.

General Practitioners are also feeling the impact of the rise in RSV cases.

Clinical Lead in Infection Control with Irish College of GPs Dr Scott Walkin said he thinks the increase in cases may be due to children's lack of exposure to viruses during the pandemic.

He said: "RSV is a common winter infection which peaks every winter. It's done that before the pandemic, it'll do it after the pandemic.

"So it's not unexpected that we have high levels of RSV. I think what is a little bit different this year is that it has increased to a higher level than usual. I don't really know for sure why that's happened."

Dr Walkin added: "But I certainly think one possibility is that people were less exposed to some of these viruses during the period of public health movement restrictions.

"And that may have meant there is a higher level of susceptibility or tendency to pick these things up because we had a period of not interacting with each other as much"

He said for most people, the symptoms of RSV are mild but said there are signs of more severe illness.

Dr Walkin said: "In people that are younger, particularly infants, they can get a bit wheezy with it, and sometimes that can make them a little bit short of breath.

"So the circumstances where people should seek help for themselves or for their children, will be if there's any suggestion of severe illness.

"If it's simply a runny nose and a slight cough and a child who is otherwise well, then they should take the public health precautions and treat with over-the-counter medications.

He said: "But parents will be pretty quick to identify signs of serious illness, like for example, shortness of breath, a very lethargic and drowsy child, a fever, which is persisting and particularly if it's persisting despite the use of pain reliever medications like paracetamol or ibuprofen.

"For babies, if they are having dry nappies if they're not wetting their nappies, that's always a worrying concern."

The HSE advises that people with respiratory symptoms, such as coughs, colds, sore throats or fevers, self-isolate at home for 48 hours after the symptoms have fully or substantially resolved.