RSV mimics common cold but can have serious effects in kids

BOARDMAN — Mariah Jordan’s 3-week-old daughter, Legacy, was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus. She spent three days in Akron Children’s Hospital in Boardman.

“I was nervous. It was scary in the hospital,” Jordan, 25, of Boardman said earlier this month.

Respiratory syncytial virus — RSV — is a common and very contagious virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday. For most babies and young children, the infection causes nothing more than a cold, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

But for a small percentage, infection with RSV can lead to serious problems. More than 140,000 infants and young children are hospitalized each year in the United States due to illness caused by RSV, according to Nationwide.

Because the symptoms include coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, fever, irritability and loss of appetite, the disease is often mistaken for the common cold. Experts say recognizing the difference is crucial to detecting and treating RSV.

“Most babies recover on their own, but some develop severe symptoms that can be life-threatening,” Dr. Octavio Ramillo, division chief of infectious diseases at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said. “The first common sign of RSV is that they won’t take their bottle, and then parents may also notice that their baby is breathing more rapidly than normal.”

Jordan said that’s what happened to her infant daughter.

“She had a whole lot of congestion in her chest. It was hard for her to breathe. And, she wasn’t keeping her milk down. I noticed she had RSV symptoms because her older sister, Londyn, had it the week before, and we just got out of the hospital for her,” Jordan said. Londyn, 5, passed it to Legacy.

“I first noticed the symptoms on Legacy because she was congested and had this yellowish mucus. I was constantly suctioning her nose. She had a little bit of wheezing. And that cough, the cough is one of the most horrible times when they are babies.” Jordan described the cough as a very high pitched cough.

“At night, it was three times worse. She had to sleep on her back and she couldn’t breathe. All that fluid could have choked her. It was terrifying.”

Some infants hospitalized with RSV need the use of breathing machines.

“Legacy didn’t need the breathing machine, because the doctors said I did such a great job of suctioning her at home. I kept feeding her the bottle, but I mixed it with Pedialyte so it wouldn’t be so thick,” Jordan said.

“My older daughter was three times scarier. She already had asthma,” she said. “Asthma makes you have that extra mucus anyway. She had to be life-flighted from Boardman to Akron.

“Londyn spent five days in the hospital. We almost lost her,” Jordan said.

“If your child has a fever over 100.3, that is when you should really worry. Get them to a hospital. Other children can catch it. It is extremely contagious,” she said. “November through January are the peak times for RSV.”

Ramillo said, “By age 2, 90 to 100 percent of children have had at least one infection caused by RSV. Babies under three months of age are very prone to get sicker for two reasons: Their lungs are very small and therefore unable to handle a lot of inflammation; and the white cells of their immune systems that protect us against infections are not ready yet.”

In most cases, children with the virus recover on their own in about a week. The cough may persist up to three weeks. The chance of severe infection is greatest for babies who are born prematurely, children who are younger than 2, and infants and young children who were born with heart or lung disease.

While there is no treatment for RSV, parents and caregivers can reduce the risk by washing their hands frequently, disinfecting hard surfaces, and avoid sharing dishes and utensils.

Other tips include:

• Only let people touch your baby after they wash their hands;

• Avoid kissing your baby if you have cold symptoms;

• Keep your baby away from crowds;

• Do not allow people to smoke around your baby;

• Limit the time high-risk babies and young children stay in day care, particularly from late fall to early spring when RSV is most common.

“Very young babies should not be exposed to many people, especially during the winter. Families should avoid even other siblings in the home having contact with an infant during this time,” a Nationwide Children’s Hospital news release states.

There is no vaccine for RSV, but a medication called palivizumab may prevent RSV infections and protect high-risk babies from serious complications of RSV infection, the release states.

Older children and adults can get RSV as well.