First came the coughing, then the running nose, then the fever. Next, a lost appetite. What two-month-old gets tired of milk, I thought? Time to call our pediatrician.
Just a day later, my wife Jill and I were writhing in emotional pain as our infant daughter Mackenzie screamed her lungs out in terrible pain while we helped her nurses put her IV in.
For parents, there’s no more helpless feeling than watching your sick child miserable and in pain from a virus, illness or injury. Every year, thousands of American parents are left with the same powerless feeling when Respiratory Syncytial Virus hospitalizes their child (57,0000 annually on average).
I was recently one of the thousands of U.S. parents watching their child painfully cough, sneeze and breathe while battling RSV in a hospital. The infection, which targets the lungs and airways, starts with mild, cold-like symptoms. It’s a near rite of childhood passage. Almost all children will have an RSV infection by the time they are two years old.
Unfortunately, RSV can swiftly morph from the common cold into a serious illness for people more vulnerable, like infants and senior citizens. In severe cases, RSV transforms into severe lung infections, bronchiolitis (infection of small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia (an infection of the lungs). According to WebMD.com, RSV claims the lives of an estimated 14,000 adults over 65 years old each year. Because it’s common place for children to acquire RSV, it’s easy for parents and pediatricians to underrate the disease when it does arrive. It is the most common cause of hospitalization for children under the age of 1.
“It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the viral world,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah, told the Chicago Tribune. “It gets no respect.”
All it takes to acquire RSV is to touch surfaces containing them, then touch, your eyes, nose or mouth. RSV blooms greatest during the fall, winter and spring. Children are most likely to catch RSV between November and April. It was in the early, unstable weather days of spring when Mackenzie caught RSV.
As Mackenzie spent three uncomfortable days in the hospital in April hooked up to an IV fighting RSV, I was reminded of the importance of hand hygiene in the fight against RSV and other respiratory viruses.
As always, regular handwashing with soap and water is the best defense for both children and parents from acquiring RSV, which I was rigorously doing every 20 minutes or so in the hospital to be safe. But healthcare professionals strongly note the power of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in locations and instances where soap and water aren’t readily available.
“There’s good evidence that if people are using (hand sanitizer) on their hands, they do get fewer respiratory illnesses,” Dr. Jordan S. Orange, chief of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Texas Children’s Hospital told About Kids Health.
Though scientists are working aggressively for a cure, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls alarmingly note, there is no vaccine to prevent RSV infections yet. There are medications like palivizumab (usually given to infants and young children who have a higher risk for serious illness caused by RSV) available to help some babies and researchers are testing an RSV vaccine for expecting mothers, who could pass down their immunity to their children.
“We’re in an evolving landscape,” Dr. Marie A. Bernard, deputy director at the National Institute on Aging, told the Tribune. “Soon we may be able to say what to do to prevent RSV.”
But for today, the lack of an available and ready accessible puts even greater emphasis on the importance of strong hand hygiene, which can keep babies safe during RSV peak season and keep them breathing easy, happily and healthy, and the impertinence of parents checking with a doctor when they notice their child’s cold growing in severity.
We were lucky: Under the hospital’s expert and compassionate care, Mackenzie made a quick and swift recovery. Both she and her parents are breathing easy today. Jill and I have an even greater appreciation of the importance of catching and stopping RSV before it can overwhelm an infant.
For a healthy baby keeps parents at ease and at peace.