RSV Cases Rising: Should We Freak Out?

Julie Ryan Evans

sick babyAround the country, reports of an increase in RSV cases are pouring in. In Montana, children under 12 are being asked not to visit a hospital to help stop the spread of respiratory syncytial virus. In Austin, one hospital is seeing 50-70 cases of it a day. While for most children, it's not much worse than a bad cold or flu, for others, the virus can be deadly.

If you have a baby or toddler, chances are your child has had it or will get it. It's a highly contagious lower respiratory infection, and most children get it before they're 3. Symptoms include things like a runny nose and a cough, often followed by vomiting and wheezing, and typically last about 8-10 days. Not fun, but most can be treated at home with pain relievers and plenty of fluids and rest.

Some children, however, develop more serious conditions because of it -- like bronchitis and pneumonia -- and for some, it becomes critical and is something to freak out about.

I know all about RSV -- I feared those three letters more than any others when my son was released from the hospital after spending three months in the hospital due to his extremely premature birth. Nurses started warning us of its danger for preemies and the lengths we'd have to go to avoid the virus months before there was even talk of him going home. It was terrifying, and once the long-awaited day to take him home came, we then had to stay home, because we couldn't risk him being exposed to RSV -- not at the grocery store, at a mall, or anywhere other people were.

Fortunately, we avoided it -- or at least any extreme form of it -- but I know plenty of other preemie parents who weren't so lucky and ended up back in the hospital with their precious baby fighting once again for her life. Babies with heart and lung problems are also at high risk when it comes to the virus.

There is a vaccine -- Synagis -- which my son got via injections regularly, but for most full-term, healthy children, it's not recommended. It's expensive, and most children don't need it as their bodies can fight the virus fine without it. 

According to the March of Dimes, parents should call their doctor immediately if their children develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Develops fast breathing or breathing problems
  • Wheezes (makes a whistling sound when exhaling)
  • Develops a worsening cough (Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold products to infants and children younger than 4 years of age. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these medications can have serious and life-threatening side effects.)
  • Looks blue around the mouth or fingertips
  • Has difficulty sucking and swallowing
  • Develops any fever of more than 100.4°F in the first 3 months of life, 101°F or greater between 3 and 6 months, or 103°F after 6 months of age

The only way to prevent RSV is pretty much through isolation. Good hand washing helps, but it can travel through air and linger on countertops and doorknobs for hours, making it hard to avoid. The good news is we're nearing the end of RSV season. While you can get it any time of the year, the peak season runs October-March.

Has your child had RSV?

Image via o5com/Flickr

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