With three young children in the house, I’m constantly trying to keep my family happy and healthy – especially when it gets colder out and I start to worry about them catching colds and the flu. As a mother of a preemie baby, I considered myself to be proactive and well-educated about what this meant for my son Phoenix, and how to keep him safe. But what I didn’t know was that there’s another seasonal virus to watch out for called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and that preemies like Phoenix – who was born at 30 weeks gestational age (wGA) – are at higher risk of contracting severe disease or severe infection. So when he was diagnosed with RSV, I was terrified, and I didn’t feel prepared.
RSV is a common seasonal virus that is contracted by nearly all infants by the age of two. In many babies, RSV leads to a mild respiratory infection with symptoms similar to the common cold or flu. But in some babies – especially those born prematurely like Phoenix – it can develop into a much more serious infection. In fact, it is the leading cause of hospitalization for babies during their first year of life in the U.S. and causes up to 200 infant deaths each year.
I experienced the severity of the virus first-hand when Phoenix contracted RSV while we were traveling for a family vacation out of the country. I first noticed he was getting sick when he had a cough, but his health began deteriorating quickly after that, and he began to wheeze and was really struggling to breathe. We brought Phoenix to a local doctor, who tested him for the flu (which was negative) and listened to his chest and lungs and said he didn’t have RSV. At the time, I thought this was how clinicians tested babies for RSV.
Despite ruling out potential causes, Phoenix’s health continued to worsen. After taking him to yet another doctor, we found out that his oxygen level was low, but the facility didn’t have the equipment to properly care for him. Petrified, we had to quickly fly to a hospital in Florida that could help, where he was officially diagnosed with severe RSV disease via a nasal swab (I learned this is a much more accurate way to test for RSV, given the symptoms of the virus can be mistaken for other illnesses). Phoenix required breathing assistance and was monitored closely in the hospital for six days.
Looking back, this was one of the scariest experiences of my life. Given this traumatic experience, I did a ton of research to understand more about RSV. I learned that RSV is highly contagious, so it’s important for parents to take extra precaution during RSV season to keep germs away from high risk babies – especially when you have school age siblings in the house like I do. The RSV season typically occurs from fall to spring, but it may begin earlier or last longer in certain areas. I also learned that there’s no treatment for RSV once it’s contracted, making it even more important for parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician to find out if their child is at high risk for severe RSV disease, and learn what they can do to help prevent the spread of RSV.
That’s why I’ve joined forces with AstraZeneca this RSV Awareness Month to share my story in the hopes that it will help educate parents about RSV disease and empower them to learn the steps they can take to help protect their children. With three kids in my home, I help #preventRSV by:
- Washing my hands – a lot! I also make hand washing fun for my kids too by getting soap with their favorite characters on it and having them sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice to make sure they’re washing for long enough.
- Always trying to sneeze into a tissue instead of my shirt. Germs can stay on clothes for hours.
- Carrying antibacterial child wipes in my purse and car so that I can clean my kids’ hands on the go. That way, they don’t spread germs from their hands to their mouths.
- Cleaning and disinfecting my kids toys regularly. I make sure to use soap that is antibacterial and safe for kids.
- Having my kids sleep in separate rooms if one is sick – and making sure to clean their sheets quickly so they don’t spread to others in the house.
Visit www.RSVprotection.com to learn more about RSV and how to help protect your child this season. Be sure to follow along on Twitter and Facebook and join the conversation using #RSVAwarenessMonth and #preventRSV!