One of the greatest dangers to your preterm baby may be a preventable virus called RSV. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in all children fewer than 12 months of age. Premature infants are susceptible and vulnerable to this terrible virus and it is important for parents to take caution. Dr. Sarmistha Hauger, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, TX, shares with us what RSV is, the unique factors of this virus, and how we can help protect our medically fragile babies.
What is RSV?
RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is an infection of the upper and lower respiratory tract that is most frequent in children under the age of five. Although most children are infected by age two, RSV is a virus that can occur throughout your lifetime.
The interesting thing about RSV is having the infection does not guarantee you won’t contract it again. You can get RSV over and over, but depending on the severity of the infection, hospitalization is not always necessary.
Who is most at risk?
- Preterm infants are at highest risk for RSV as they have a vulnerable immune system and their lung anatomy hasn’t had time to develop into a functional system by the time this infection may enter their body.
- Children with congenital heart disease
- Children with chronic lung disease
- Children with a compromised (weakened) immune system
- Children with other underlying medical factors that may hinder their breathing or lung/cardiac function
Children in the above categories that are also born at the time RSV tends to impact our population are at far greater risk for contracting the infection. RSV occurs yearly and usually during the winter months ranging from November – March / April, but may vary regionally from year to year.
How is RSV spread?
- Child to Child: This is especially important if your child attends daycare where other children may be sick.
- Siblings: Brothers and sisters may bring germs home from daycare or school risking potential infection.
- Environmental Sources: RSV can live for many hours on toys and hard surfaces (cribs, tables).
Is RSV preventable?
RSV is one of the few viral infections we can do something to prevent. Synagis, a protective injection, is an antibody response against RSV given annually to high risk babies. It gives premature babies the infection-fighting antibodies they lack, helping protect their lungs from RSV.
If you find your insurance denies coverage of Synagis talk to your doctor right away. They will be your best advocate for determining how necessary it is for your baby to receive Synagis and they can help you navigate the insurance process.
What other resources are out there?
The Centers for Disease Control is a great resource for season epidemiology updates on RSV and also gives practical advice for caring for a child with RSV.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is also a great site for information on RSV and many other topics of interest to parents.
Little Lungs features current and easy-to-understand information about RSV awareness.
The National Coalition for Infant Health has fast facts and videos on RSV.
It is important to note that RSV is easily tested for and can be diagnosed within hours in many cases. If you think your baby has RSV please call your doctor immediately in order to get the help you may need as soon as possible.