November 17 is worldwide Preemie Awareness Day. More than half a million American babies are born prematurely, which means they are born before 37 weeks gestation. Premature birth can often lead to severe health problems because the baby’s critical organs have not have time to fully develop in the womb. Preemies do not have strong immune systems, which means they are more likely to develop infections. Preterm infants are more likely to develop respiratory problems because of underdeveloped lungs.
It is now RSV season! According to the CDC, November through March is the time when RSV epidemic hits North America. RSV is a common virus that most infants get before age 2. Parents may not realize their baby has RSV because in full-term infants, RSV presents itself much like the common cold. A baby who was born preterm, even just a few weeks early, is at an increased risk for developing an RSV-related infection, which can require medical attention and even hospitalization. RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization each year, and causes up to 500 infant deaths per year.
There is no treatment for RSV. It is very important for parents to speak with their pediatricians to find out if their infant is at high risk for developing RSV and to find out how to prevent it.
Watch your baby for RSV symptoms. Contact your doctor immediately if your baby exhibits one or more of the following:
- Persistent coughing or wheezing
- Rapid, difficult, or gasping breaths
- Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails
- High fever
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty feeding
Last year, one of my friend’s children developed RSV. He and many other babies got very sick from this virus, which they had been exposed to at the same daycare. RSV is highly contagious! Although my friend’s baby had not been born preterm, his illness became quite severe. He had difficulty breathing and was hospitalized for several days. Thankfully, our friends’ baby fully recovered, but that was a very stressful experience for their family.
My youngest son was born at 38 weeks in late May of this year. He was not a preemie, but he did have to spend the first few days of his life in the NICU due to issues with his lungs and breathing. There were several preemies fighting for their lives in the NICU at the same time he was in there. I still think about those little babies and hope that they are now living at home with their families and that their parents have been made aware of their baby’s increased risk of developing the RSV virus. I will be taking extra precautions with my own child because of the lung issues he experienced at birth.
I hope that by helping to spread the word about RSV awareness, more parents will be able to practice RSV prevention.
Things you can do to help protect your child from RSV:
- Wash hands, toys, bedding, and play areas frequently
- Ensure you, your family, and any visitors in your home wash their hands or use hand sanitizer
- Avoid large crowds and people who may be sick
- Never let anyone smoke near your baby
- Speak with your child’s doctor if you believe he or she may be at high risk for RSV, as a preventive therapy may be available
Learn more about RSV at RSVProtection.com.