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RSV: An Infant Virus Every Parent Should Know

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It was three years ago around this time that my youngest daughter, then a little over three months old, came down with a common head cold. Since she was my third child, I thought nothing of the runny nose and congestion. At her age, as you know, there is really little you can do for the common cold other than suction their nose, use a humidifier or give your baby infant Tylenol if they are running a fever.

After a week of this head cold, she started to get super congested and seemed to be taking shorter breaths and wheezing. I became extremely concerned and took her to the pediatrician who listened to her breathing and immediately sent us to the Emergency Room.

Once at the ER, she was diagnosed with RSV and emitted to the hospital for a week. During this time, the head cold turned into Pneumonia and Bronchitis. She was put on oxygen and then high flow oxygen plus a feeding tube.

What is RSV? My two older children had never experienced anything like this, my pediatrician never mentioned RSV nor my friends. According to WebMd.com, RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, is a common and highly contagious virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday. For most children, the infection causes nothing more than a cold and in adults, it is only that, a bad cold. But for a small percentage of babies, the infection can lead to serious problems such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia and can even be life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 57,527 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old each year. The RSV season usually runs from fall into early spring, but varies depending on which part of the country you are in. Here is a site that lists RSV seasons by state.

What are the signs to look for? Like our case, if your baby’s head cold is lasting more than a week or seems to be getting worse, go see your doctor. Other signs WebMd.com notes are: high fever, thick discharge from the nose, cough with mucus, refusal to breast or bottle feed and signs of dehydration such as crying with no tears.

Can RSV be prevented? Prevention is the same as with any virus around young infants. Frequently washing your hands with an antibacterial soap before touching a baby, keeping friends with head colds away, cleaning and disinfecting house surfaces and limiting exposure to other children.

There is currently no vaccine or cure for RSV. Most cases are mild and do not require a hospital stay such as our child, but just care at home.

What if my child is high-risk? If your child is considered high-risk for RSV because they have a heart condition or are a preemie, there is a medication given to help children not develop the virus. It is called Palivizumab and PubMedHealth.com says children with these conditions or other lung diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis may benefit from this drug. It has shown to reduce hospitalization rates in some high-risk populations. Palivizumab is administered once a month for five months, beginning before the RSV season in your area each year. If you think your child may be high risk, talk to your doctor about this medication.

Are there long term effects for RSV? We were told by the hospital and our doctor that there are really no long-term effects of RSV other than a possible risk of developing asthma. Our daughter was given a nebulizer machine post-op and we used this until no wheezing remained. We have not seen any signs of her developing asthma, but have kept the machine in case we need it in the future. Sometimes asthma is hard to diagnose in babies and young toddlers or develops later. Your child can get RSV again, but chances are the second time it would be a milder case and not require medical attention.

Thankfully today my child is a thriving three-year-old with no RSV side effects.


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