Young children and infants are more susceptible to this contagious virus.
COVID-19 has been the focus of media attention for many months. But there is another respiratory virus, known as RSV, that is gaining national attention. Adults can contract RSV, but it is most common in children younger than five years old. An estimated 58,000 children are hospitalized each year with the virus.
RSV cases are typically low in warmer months. However, doctors are reporting more patients across the country. After seeing a handful of cases in the winter, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now show that there have consistently been more than 2,000 cases of RSV a week in the US in July. In August 2013, there were only 200 cases per week.
RSV is more common in children than it is in adults. It can also be fatal for babies. Seuil Bose Brill, MD, a pediatrician at The Ohio State University Wexner medical center, tells Health that infants younger than 6 months, particularly those under 3 months, are most vulnerable to severe infections.
It’s natural to be worried about RSV if you have a baby. This article will show you how to identify RSV symptoms in babies and what to do next.
Let’s start with what exactly is RSV?
RSV is a common respiratory virus, according to the CDC. Although it usually causes mild symptoms similar to a cold, the virus can cause serious complications, especially in older people and infants. Most people recover within one week of contracting the virus. RSV is so common that the virus will have infected nearly all children in the US by the second birthday, the CDC says.
How can babies get RSV?
RSV can spread to babies (and anyone) the following ways, per the CDC:
- Infected persons cough or sneeze when they are ill.
- When virus drops from a cough or sneeze get in your eyes, nose, or mouth, it is a viral infection.
- Touch a surface with the virus, such as a doorknob or toy, before you wash your hands.
- Direct contact with the virus can be likened to being slapped by someone with RSV.
Babies can also contract RSV from being around other children, Danelle Fisher MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, California, tells Health.
What are the symptoms of RSV in babies?
The CDC says that people–including babies–usually show symptoms of RSV within four to six days after they’re exposed. Although RSV is not generally severe at first, it can quickly progress to more serious conditions. Early signs include:
- Runny nose
- Appetite decrease
- You are gasping
John Brancato, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Connecticut Children’s, says it looks like a bad cough. He says the baby can have a wheeze or other signs of difficulty breathing. He says their ribs can show on the sides, and their neck or chest may sink in when they breathe.
How to treat RSV in babies
There is no specific treatment for RSV, but the CDC says there are a few things you can do, including managing your baby’s fever with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Before you give any medication to your baby, it is important to consult with your pediatrician. Dr. Brancato advises that fluids should be a priority for your baby.
Dr. Fisher states that you should monitor your child for signs of respiratory distress or difficulty. This could include their chest moving in and out when breathing or wheezing, which can be a high-pitched sound. Then, it is time to contact the pediatrician. Dr. Brill advises that trouble eating, drinking, or sleeping should be considered a red flag.
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Why is RSV so common in babies being admitted to the hospital?
Each year, an estimated 58,000 children under the age of five in the US are hospitalized due to an RSV infection, according to the CDC. But some babies are at a higher risk than others for developing severe RSV that can lead to hospitalization. These include:
- Premature babies
- Infants as young as 6 months old, especially infants
- Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease
- Children with weak immune systems
- Children with neuromuscular disorders (e.g., children who have trouble swallowing or clearing out mucus secretions) are known as neuromuscular kids.
Dr. Brill states that sometimes babies need to be admitted to the hospital if they are sick. “Some babies are more susceptible to severe infections.”
Dr. Brill recommends calling the doctor if your baby has symptoms that seem severe or are at greater risk. She says, “I always advise parents to call me if they have concerns.” A doctor can determine if a child should be admitted to the hospital.