This post was sponsored as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.
As winter creeps up on us, and along with it RSV season, I’m happy to partner with Little Lungs to raise awareness for RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, during National RSV Awareness Month. RSV affects almost 100% of infants before the age of two. It is an common and highly contagious seasonal virus that peaks through the months of November – March.
While the symptoms of RSV are often mild, in some cases they can become severe or life threatening. The chance of this increases in babies, especially those born prematurely or those with conditions that weaken their immune system. We first learned about RSV ten years ago when my oldest son was born prematurely, but it wasn’t until my fourth son was born last year that we learned the hardest lesson about RSV – that it can sneak up on you, and that being aware of the signs and symptoms is the best way to protect your family.
When my fourth son was born I felt pretty at ease over the whole newborn stage. I’d done this three times already, and felt like I knew all the rules. With three school aged kids germs were always on our minds, but we developed an afternoon routine that included hand washing and changing out of school clothes and felt confident we were doing everything right.
Since the baby was only a month old we even chose to stay home for Christmas, avoiding the inevitable germs that get passed around at big gatherings. My dad visited for Christmas and spent winter break with us. His extra help around the house allowed us all to fall into an easy routine with the baby, and by the time school started again we were feeling pretty good – we had survived the major holidays with a newborn, and everything would be smooth sailing from here.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I realized something was wrong. I woke up with a nagging feeling. The baby had been extra fussy overnight, nursing on and off, but I knew that could be normal at six weeks old. The day was pretty uneventful, with a little fussiness and frequent nursing. My mom’s groups reassured me that he was likely just going through a “leap”, but still something about his behavior just didn’t sit well with me.
By evening I was so preoccupied with this nagging feeling that I asked my husband to put our older boys to bed while I sat with the baby. I was changing him when I noticed something funny about the way he was breathing. He seemed to be sucking his chest in very deeply on each breath, and the up and down movement of his belly wasn’t smooth like you would normally expect. We later learned that this movement is called chest retractions, and they are a sign of difficulty breathing.
We took his temperature and it was normal. My husband suggested using a humidifier and saline mist in case he was congested, and so that night I stayed up holding him near a cool mist humidifier and watching his jerky, unusual chest movements. When morning came I packed all my kids into the car and dropped them at school early, then drove to our pediatrician’s office, convinced they would tell me I needed to keep doing what I was doing, but needing the reassurance of a doctor at this point.
Because he was so young we were taken right into a room at the doctor’s office, where a nurse immediately noted his chest retractions, and also pointed out that his nostrils were flaring with each breath – another sign of breathing distress. She took his temperature (still normal) and disappeared, only to reappear seconds later with the doctor in tow. They hooked him up to monitors and started nebulizer treatments, but his oxygen levels were not improving.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at our doctor’s office we were back in the car heading to the nearest children’s hospital. Our doctor called ahead to have them waiting. Walking into an emergency room to a team of nurses waiting to whisk your baby into triage is overwhelming and frightening, but I am forever grateful for the efficient and swift actions of our family doctor and the hospital staff.
They took blood as a doctor explained to me that my son’s oxygen level was dangerously low, and they would be admitting him to the hospital immediately. They asked me if anyone else in our home was sick, but in the weeks leading up to this no one had been – no fevers, no days home from school… nothing except the occasional sniffle or sneeze that comes along with cold weather. In older children and healthy people RSV symptoms are often similar to the common cold, so family members may not even seem extremely ill. My older children most likely contracted RSV from school. Because RSV is so contagious, it likely spread quickly in our house.
The next week was a blur – my son’s bloodwork came back positive for RSV. I spent 24 hours a day in a hospital room, doing my best to sooth a 6 week old baby from outside a giant plastic tent that provided him with oxygen and medication. We were fortunate (which is saying a lot when you consider that my son spent nearly a week hospitalized). We caught the infection early, and although there is no “cure” for RSV, my son received supportive treatment that helped to keep his symptoms mild. The fact that he was a full term, healthy newborn also played into his relatively mild case. We met some parents while in the hospital with much more severe cases of RSV.
I am so grateful that I followed my intuition when I felt something wasn’t right, but because I wasn’t fully educated on how common RSV it, and what the symptoms are, our story could have ended differently. I’m so happy to be working with Little Lungs to help other parents become more educated about this than I was. Talking about RSV can be scary, but we can protect our families by knowing how to prevent RSV infection, and how to recognize the symptoms early on and get help.
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus is a common and highly contagious seasonal virus that affects the respiratory system. It is most prevalent in the months November-March, when it becomes epidemic. Nearly 100% of children have been infected with RSV by the age of two, but it is most dangerous to premature infants – who have not received the full amount of infection fighting antibodies in utero, and have more fragile, underdeveloped lungs and airways – and those with compromised immune systems. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants under one year in the U.S.
How can I prevent RSV?
The first step is to know how to minimize the risk of RSV in your home. You can start by:
- Making sure everyone who enters your home washes their hands immediately, and uses good handwashing practices the entire time they are there (including after sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose).
- Wash children’s toys and surfaces often to reduce the risk of exposure.
- Avoid large groups of people (especially young children).
- Avoid anyone who is sick, even if it just seems to be a simple cold.
- Talk to your pediatrician to determine if your child could be at an increased risk of contracting RSV.
It can be hard to follow these guidelines, especially with family who may be anxious to meet your new baby. If you’re struggling with explaining this to family, reach out to your pediatrician for advice on how to talk to family members about the very real risk, and the importance of keeping your baby safe or download and share this infograph with friends and family.
What are the symptoms of RSV?
The next step is to know the symptoms of RSV, so you can get medical attention early on. Since RSV is a virus, antibiotics won’t prevent or treat an RSV infection. Doctors can offer supportive care to help your child beat the infection, and the sooner they start the better your chances of lessening the severity. Symptoms of RSV can mimic the cold or flu.
Call your child’s doctor if you notice:
- Coughing or wheezing that does not stop.
- Fast or Troubled Breathing, or a child that is gasping for breath.
- A bluish color around the mouth of fingernails (this can indicate a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream)
- Unusual tiredness or lethargy (often described as your child seeming “out of it” or uninterested in activities they normally enjoy).
- Flaring of the nostrils while breathing, or chest retractions, which appear like a sucking in of the skin around the chest cavity.
- A sudden change in eating habits. An infant who is struggling to breathe may not be able to nurse well, or take a bottle properly. You may see a drop in the amount they are eating, or may experience sudden cluster feeding.
- A fever of 100.4 or higher in infants under 3 months of age.
My youngest son is almost a year old now, and we will definitely be following every guideline to protect him from RSV again this year. We’ll also be taking every opportunity to share our story and these tips during RSV Awareness Month, so that hopefully we can help prevent other parents from having the same frightening experience.
We are participating in Knit Big for Little Lungs, creating hats and blankets for NICU babies around the country. When my son was hospitalized they brought us a baby sized quilt made by a local group of women and donated to the children’s hospital. It was such an amazing gesture of support and kindness through a difficult time, and using it now is a great reminder of the community and support we found while at the hospital. If you’d like to participate you can find information and even suggested patterns on the Little Lungs website!
And please share this post, the Little Lungs website and the RSV awareness Infograph with friends and family to help spread awareness as we enter RSV season (November-March), and help protect little lungs! Have you had a child diagnosed with RSV? Share your story in the comments!