(BPT) - As the sights and smells of fall begin to emerge, October is a time to be enjoyed; but the chilling weather also brings reminders that cold and flu season are fast approaching. In an effort to keep children healthy, parents often take precautions to ensure their children avoid contracting germs and seasonal viruses. However, many parents are not aware of another contagious, seasonal virus that is contracted by nearly all children by age 2: respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.1
RSV occurs in epidemics, typically from fall into spring in most of the U.S., but the â€śRSV seasonâ€ť can vary by geography and from year to year.2 In many babies, the virus leads to a mild respiratory infection with symptoms similar to the common cold or flu, but RSV can develop into a much more severe infection in high-risk infants including babies born prematurely (earlier than 35 weeks gestation).3,4
Jennifer Degl, mother of a micropreemie born at 23 weeks, learned that her daughter, Joy, was at high-risk for RSV and took precautions to keep her healthy as she grew from her initial weight of only 1 lb 4 oz.
With RSV season approaching and October being RSV Awareness Month, Jennifer uses this time of year to share her story and educate other parents on how to keep their children and their little lungs from contracting severe RSV disease.
â€śWhen Joy was born,â€ť Jennifer explains, â€śshe wasnâ€™t even as long as a ruler, so you can imagine how tiny she was. What you really want as a parent after your child is born is to hold your baby, but because Joy needed special medical treatments, we couldnâ€™t, which was really difficult for my family.â€ť
Knowing that as a premature infant Joy would be at increased risk for certain health conditions and seasonal viruses, including RSV, Jennifer worked closely with Joyâ€™s doctors to learn how to keep her daughter safe.
Jennifer learned that preterm infants are twice as likely as full-term infants to be admitted to the hospital, in their first 6 months of life, for RSV-related symptoms because they were not able to fully develop in their motherâ€™s womb and do not receive the full amount of infection-fighting antibodies that are transferred in utero, so they are not as well-equipped to help fight off infections as full-term babies.5,6 Additionally, preterm infants are born with underdeveloped lungs (narrow and fragile airways), putting them at increased risk of chronic lung problems and respiratory infections.4,7
â€śOur childrenâ€™s pediatrician let us know that RSV spreads easily through human contact such as touching, kissing, sneezing and coughing, and can live on surfaces for several hours,â€ť Jennifer explains.2 â€śHaving three older, school-aged children, I was eager to learn preventive steps I could take to keep Joy healthy.â€ť
Dr. Mitchell Goldstein, Pediatrician at Loma Linda Childrenâ€™s Hospital, explains that many parents are not familiar with RSV or the factors that put a child at high-risk for contracting severe RSV disease, such as premature birth, as well as certain lung and heart diseases.2
â€śAll parents should learn how to help prevent severe RSV disease, especially those with high-risk babies, as there is no therapy once RSV is contracted.â€ť Dr. Goldstein says, â€śThis RSV Awareness Month, ask your childâ€™s pediatrician if your baby may be at high risk for developing severe RSV disease.â€ť
Parents should be on the look-out for RSV symptoms in high-risk infants, and seek medical attention if these signs are exhibited. These include persistent coughing or wheezing; rapid, difficult or gasping breaths; blue color of the lips, mouth or fingernails; spread-out nostrils and/or a caved-in chest when trying to breathe; and a fever (a temperature greater than 100.4Â° F [rectal] in infants under 3 months of age).8,9
Thanks to the precautions that Jennifer took, Joyâ€™s little lungs were protected and she did not contract RSV. â€śWe were very lucky,â€ť Jennifer says, â€śItâ€™s because of the information we were given by her pediatrician. Simple steps are important to keep your baby safe.â€ť
Since there is no specific therapy for RSV disease, prevention is critical. All parents should:
* Understand the risk factors and ask your pediatrician if your child may be at increased risk10
* Wash your hands as often as possible, along with toys, bedding, and clothes10
* Avoid taking your baby to crowded areas during RSV season (eg, malls or grocery stores)10
* Never let anyone smoke around your baby10
* Steer clear of people who are sick or who have recently been sick10
For more information about RSV, visit www.LittleLungs.com.
1. Glezen WP, Taber LJ, Frank AL, Kasel JA. Risk of Primary Infection and Reinfection with Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Am J Dis Child. 1986;140:543-546.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV Transmission. https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/transmission.html. Accessed September 26, 2017.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms and Care. https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/symptoms.html. Accessed September 26, 2017.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Premature Birth. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pretermbirth.htm. Accessed September 26, 2017.
5. Yeung CY, Hobbs JR. Serum-gamma-G-globulin levels in normal premature, post-mature and â€śsmall-for-datesâ€ť newborn babies. Lancet. 1968;7557:1167-1170.
6. Boyce TG, Mellen BG, Mitchel EF Jr, et al. Rates of hospitalization for respiratory syncytial virus infection among children in Medicaid. J Pediatr. 2000;137(6):865-870.
7. Langston C, Kida K, Reed M, Thurlbeck WM. Human lung growth in late gestation and in the neonate. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1984;129:607-613.
8. Medline Plus. Medical Encyclopedia: Bronchiolitis. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000975.htm. Accessed September 26, 2017.
9. Merck Manual Professional Version. Fever in Infants and Children. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/symptoms-in-infants-and-children/fever-in-infants-and-children. Accessed September 26, 2017.
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/prevention.html. Accessed September 26, 2017.