Preventing and Recognizing RSV in Babies

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus infection, is a common infection that occurs in babies. In fact, 98% of all babies in America get RSV sometime in their first year of life. Even though it’s common, it can still be dangerous and even deadly to vulnerable babies.

“Some babies have much more severe disease [with RSV], and can have pneumonias from it” explained Bruce Barnett, MD, a pediatric pulmonary medicine and pediatric critical care medicine specialist with ProMedica Physicians. “They can breathe very fast from it; their color, instead of being nice and pink on their lips and their nail beds, can turn blue; they can pull or retract between their ribs or at the top of the trachea.”

These are all signs that a baby is in need of immediate care. Certain babies are at a higher risk for developing a severe RSV infection, including those who were born prematurely or have a chronic disease.

“Babies who are born prematurely, especially those less than 30 weeks of gestation, in other words, born premature by 10 weeks,” said Dr. Barnett. “Babies who have any sort of chronic lung disease, especially those on oxygen as newborns, babies who have bad hearts or hearts with holes where they’re not supposed to be, or babies with what we call immune deficiency.”

With all babies, care should be given to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, especially in the peak times of fall and winter. Your best defense? Soap and water.

“When you get a virus infection, you have viral particles. A lot of this is in the nose. You cough on your hand, sneeze on your hand, and then you hold the baby and you kiss the baby. Then you transfer the virus right to the baby,” explained Dr. Barnett. “So the No. 1 way we can prevent the spread of viral illness is to wash our hands.”

People of all ages can get RSV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. While there is no specific treatment for RSV, a healthcare professional can help manage symptoms and monitor the condition.

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