Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Common respiratory infection can mean big problems for babies this season
Respiratory Syncytial Virus manifests most frequently between November and April.
FRISCO As the mother of twins who were born prematurely last December, Frisco resident Dawn McKeag knows a thing or two about the potential health impacts facing newborns -- especially preemies.
The biggest obstacle McKeag says she and her husband, Chris, faced in caring for their children was respiratory syncytial virus.
RSV is a common respiratory virus in both adults and infants, but premature babies are much more likely to require hospital admission for the virus. According to the Center for Disease Control, RSV infections in the United States are most common from November to April.
McKeag said the virus has already stricken one of her twins multiple times.
"It's happened a few times; he was only home about a month from the hospital and he already had to go back in the hospital," she said. "Knowing something as simple as having to visit a doctor can get him back in a hospital just because he was around other people is pretty scary. We have to be cautious about just taking them to a hospital for a regular appointment."
Before her twins, the McKeags weren't even aware of the potential problems of RSV, let alone the virus itself. The virus is particularly harmful to preemies, as they have airways that are not fully developed -- and at about 2 pounds, McKeag's twins were highly susceptible to the virus.
Since their births, McKeag learned as much as she could about the virus in order to better safeguard her children.
"I had no idea about it, and when I talk about it with my friends and family it can be helpful, because a lot of them had no idea about it either," McKeag said. "People may not think it's a big deal if they have a little cough to be around children, but it can actually be really harmful."
After visiting a regular pediatrician, McKeag and her husband visited Dr. Peter N. Schochet, a Plano-based pediatric pulmonologist who specializes in all aspects of pediatric lung disease.
Schochet said the best way to prevent RSV is to be aware of your baby's surroundings.
"Primary prevention is the best prevention -- good hand-washing and staying away from sick people, keeping your baby away from crowded places and not letting people touch your baby's toys," he said. "...There currently isn't a vaccine for RSV, so the best thing to do is simply be mindful of where you are with your baby."
Perhaps the most troubling aspect for parents of preemies and newborns is there's no good treatment, Schochet said.
"It's mainly supportive care after a child has contracted the virus," he said. "The usual breathing treatments we use to treat asthma don't really work with RSV, since it's not really asthma. Some doctors have used hypertonic saline, which may help, but mostly the care is supportive -- you wait until the virus runs its course."
Schochet noted that the virus typically lasts about 14 days -- "the first seven days are getting sick, and the second seven are getting better," he said -- although babies that need hospitalization won't require admission for that full duration.
Preemies have a much higher chance of being admitted to the hospital as well, Schochet said, and generally require a longer stay as well.
There is a shot to help prevent RSV -- Synagis -- but that shot has guidelines regarding what children can receive it. Many preemies that aren't between 32 and 35 weeks won't receive the shot unless they meet certain conditions, such as having school-aged siblings.
Schochet said preemies who are given Synagis shots have a much lower rate of hospital admission -- about 1 or 2 percent, he said, which is similar to hospital admission rates for full-term babies.
"RSV is probably the single most-common reason why babies are admitted to the hospital," he said. "It's the most common cause of bronchiolitis by far, which causes labored breathing. And you can get the virus again and again and again -- some babies will get RSV infections multiple times a season."
McKeag is hopeful guidelines will be changed so all preemies will be allowed the shots -- which are typically covered by insurance and cost about $1,000. She's involved with a group that's creating a petition to change those regulations.
"I just hope people -- especially expecting parents -- are aware of the issue," McKeag said. "Talk to your doctor about RSV if you're expecting, just so you can have all the information you need."
For more information about the RSV petition, visit www.rsvpetition.com.
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