RSV Infection: What Texas Parents Need To Know This RSV Season

February 20, 2012

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Last month, over 30% of Texan babies needing medical care for respiratory issues tested positive for a common seasonal virus, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. As Dr. Matthew Wigder explained in a previous post about RSV, it’s a common seasonal virus, which infects nearly all children by the age of two.

But did you know that RSV is actually the leading cause of infant hospitalization? As an ICU specialist, I frequently see babies hospitalized from RSV infection.

Despite being so common, many parents aren’t aware of RSV. Most older children exhibit symptoms often indistinguishable from a bad cold or flu. However, for young infants or those with special problems, RSV can become severe or even life threatening.

  • Be aware of “RSV Season:” In Texas, the season typically starts in late November and lasts through late March. RSV season varies by geography and from year-to-year, however, so you should ask your pediatrician for information on local trends.
  • Understand if your baby is at high risk: While all babies have the potential to develop an infection from the virus, there are a few factors that can increase your child’s risk of developing severe RSV-related infection.

Risk factors of RSV include:

  • being born prematurely (under 37 weeks gestation)
  • having chronic lung disease,
  • and being born with certain types of heart disease.

Preemies, for example, are born before they were able to receive the full amount of infection-fighting maternal antibodies and their lungs are underdeveloped. Similarly, children with chronic lung disease simply don’t have the reserve to be able to tolerate an infection with RSV. Children with some forms of congenital heart disease can become extremely ill with RSV infection. In fact, children with CHD have the highest mortality associated with RSV. In centers of excellence in heart surgery, such as The Heart Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, a child has a higher risk of from RSV than from their heart surgery. With this risk, it is clear how important it is to prevent severe RSV infection. Nothing is more difficult for me to watch than a child who has fought through a difficult heart operation only to be put at risk of dying from RSV.

  • Take steps to prevent RSV infection: RSV is very contagious and can be spread easily through touching, sneezing and coughing. Additionally, the virus can live for hours on surfaces such as tissues, countertops and toys. For this reason, it’s important to take steps to protect all babies from contracting the virus, including frequently washing hands, toys and bedding, and avoiding crowds. Additionally it’s important for parents whose healthy babies contract RSV to avoid the spread of the virus to babies who may be more vulnerable.

There is no cure for RSV, only prevention. The most important thing we can all do to prevent RSV infection is washing our hands. However, for parents whose baby may fall into the high-risk category, it’s important to know that, while there is no vaccine to prevent RSV, there is a preventive therapy known as RSV prophylaxis, which can help protect high-risk infants from developing serious RSV infection. Parents who think their baby may be at high-risk should consult their pediatrician to discuss if they may be eligible for monthly doses of RSV prophylaxis during the RSV season.

  • Know the symptoms of serious RSV infection: 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.

Symptoms of RSV include:

  • 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
  • Fatigue

If you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, contact your pediatrician or an emergency health care professional immediately.

Resources to learn more:

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