If you gave birth to your firstborn in late fall or early winter, you may be concerned that your baby will catch winter colds and viruses. While nearly all babies catch a cold on occasion, there are some more serious viruses that can mimic the symptoms of a cold. The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of them. This virus can escalate to bronchitis or pneumonia, putting your baby's health at serious risk. Understanding this common childhood virus and learning to recognize the symptoms will help you protect your baby.
What Is RSV?
The respiratory syncytial virus is a common early childhood virus that affects the respiratory system in young children. In fact, nearly all children will contact the RSV virus before the age of 2, explains WebMD. Under normal circumstances, the virus causes symptoms similar to the common cold and does not require medical treatment. However, some babies develop severe complications and develop pneumonia or bronchitis, making it difficult for your baby to breathe.
What Are the Risk Factors?
There are several circumstances that can cause your baby to be at a higher risk of complications from RSV. These include premature babies whose lungs have not developed fully, babies with lung disease (such as asthma), babies with a compromised immune system, and babies younger than 2 to 3 months, says WebMD. According to the CDC, nearly 58,000 children are hospitalized for RSV each year. Older children and adults can also get this virus, but their symptoms are typically mild and indistinguishable from the common cold.
How Do Babies Catch RSV?
This virus is extremely contagious and can be spread by contact with someone who already has the virus. If you send your baby to daycare, they may become exposed to the virus if other children are infected. They may also be exposed when friends and family visit your home or you take your baby out to shopping centers or other public places. You may even expose your baby without knowing it. Because adults and other children rarely experience complications, they typically are not aware they have the virus. The virus is most active during late fall and winter.
How Do You Prevent Babies from Catching RSV?
While you probably can't eliminate all risks, you can minimize your baby's chances of getting RSV by washing your hands with soap and water before picking them up or playing with them and requiring all family members and guests to do likewise. You can also limit your baby's outings during cold and virus season. Avoiding shopping malls and community centers, or any area where crowds of people gather, will lessen the likelihood that your baby will come in contact with the virus.
How Is RSV Treated?
Young babies that suffer from complications of the virus are typically hospitalized. Hospitalized infants often receive IV fluids and humidified oxygen. If their breathing is extremely labored, they may receive an epinephrine shot or be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe. They may also receive a bronchial dilator and antiviral medications via a nebulizer, explains the Mayo Clinic.
What Symptoms Should You Watch For?
It can be difficult to tell if your baby has a cold or a more serious condition like RSV, but there are some telltale signs that your baby needs to see a doctor. If you notice any of the following, call your baby's doctor right away.
Fast Breathing: Count the number of breaths you baby takes in one minute. Under normal circumstances a baby under 6 months old breathes 30 to 60 times a minute. If your baby's breathing rate is higher than 60, it is time to call the doctor.
Wheezing or Grunting: If you baby makes wheezing sounds or grunts with each exhale, this means he is having a difficult time breathing and needs to see the doctor.
Gray or Blue Skin: This typically occurs around the lips and fingernails and indicates your baby is not getting enough oxygen.
Labored Breathing: Check your baby's ribs as he breathes. If the you can see the area around the ribs sucking in with each breath, your baby is working too hard to breathe and needs medical attention.
Chances are your baby will suffer only minor colds during their first winter, but knowing how to tell if the condition is more than a common cold will help you avoid serious complications. Contact a clinic like Willow Oak Pediatrics to learn more.