Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by Kari Kassir, M.D.
Most parents are pretty familiar with colds and the flu, but not as aware of another common winter-season virus, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). This potentially life-threatening illness leads to hospitalizations for 75,000 to 125,000 children in the United States each year.
RSV is a virus with symptoms very similar to the common cold. While nearly every child before age 2 contracts RSV, it can be especially dangerous for babies within the first six months of life. Babies with certain risk factors, such as prematurity (born before 37 weeks gestation age), are even more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from RSV-related infections. In fact, RSV infection is the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the United States.
What Is RSV?
RSV is a virus that affects the upper respiratory system. It can be tricky for parents to pinpoint it because the symptoms – a runny nose and fever – are similar to those of the common cold. Some children with an increased risk of contracting the virus are more seriously affected. In these children, the infection progresses to the lungs and can cause a severe cough, chest retractions and wheezing.
Is My Baby at Increased Risk?
Most babies are able to fully recover from RSV, but some can become seriously ill. Infants at risk of more serious RSV-related illnesses include those born prematurely (because they have underdeveloped lungs and fewer vital antibodies to fight off infection), or those with a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds),chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease or weak immune systems.
Babies with these risk factors should be watched more closely for signs of RSV, even after six months of age. A family history of asthma, frequent contact with other children, or exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can also contribute to an increased risk of contracting RSV.
How Do I Spot It?
Even if your child isn’t at increased risk for RSV, you should still take symptoms seriously. If left unattended, RSV can result in more alarming symptoms than those resembling the common cold, including:
• Severe coughing or wheezing
• Difficulty breathing or rapid, gasping breaths
• Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails
• High fever
• Difficulty feeding or decreased intake of liquids
If you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, contact your pediatrician immediately.
When Is RSV Prevalent?
In most of North America, RSV is at epidemic levels beginning in the fall, and lasting through the spring. In some warm climates, such as Florida, RSV season starts as early as June. Because RSV season varies by geography and from year-to-year, ask your pediatrician for more information on when your baby might be most susceptible.
How Can I Help My Baby Avoid RSV?
Prevention is a major component. The virus is highly contagious and can be spread easily through touching, sneezing and coughing. Additionally, the virus can live for hours on surfaces such as tissues and countertops.
Take these easy steps to protect your baby:
• Wash your hands frequently, and ensure that others who come in contact with your baby do the same.
• Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for on-the-spot cleansing.
• Avoid contact with others who may be sick.
• Wash toys, clothes, bedding and your baby’s play area frequently.
• Never let anyone smoke around your baby.
• Avoid taking your baby to crowded areas, such as malls and grocery stores, whenever possible.
• If your baby is at high risk for developing RSV, talk to your doctor about other preventive options.
Finally, be an advocate for your baby. Make sure you’ve talked to your pediatrician before RSV season begins to know what steps you should take to prevent the virus, and how you can help give your baby the care he or she needs if RSV is contracted. For more information, visit www.RSVprotection.com.
Kari Kassir, M.D., is a pediatric critical care physician at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Calif. He’s also a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical and vaccine developer MedImmune, which offers an objective, informative website on RSV at www.rsvprotection.com.