It’s called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
RSV is quite common, with almost all babies contracting it at least once before their second birthday. It produces mild, cold-like symptoms, including coughing, sneezing and a low-grade fever.
While RSV typically clears up on its own within a week or so, the virus can be more dangerous, even life-threatening, for others, particularly premature infants, a child born with a congenital heart defect or babies under six months old.
“The virus causes inflammation, which can block a baby’s small airway and makes it difficult for them to breathe,” explains Dr. Gabriel Aljadeff, a pediatric pulmonologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge. “These higher-risk babies are very prone to RSV, becoming severe and progressing into their lower airways, leading to pneumonia and bronchiolitis.”
Every year, more than 57,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Aljadeff recommends parents ask themselves the following three simple questions if their baby is sick, especially if he or she falls into one of the high-risk categories:
Is your baby alert and responsive?
Is your baby not in any respiratory distress? This means they have a normal breathing rate and are not experiencing chest retractions.
Control of fluids:
Are they keeping down fluids and not throwing up due to the cough?
If the answers to these questions are all “yes”, then parents should not panic and simply make an appointment with their pediatrician.
A baby should be taken to the emergency room if the response is “no” to any of the above questions.
“As with any contagious flu or virus, the key to prevention is through frequent hand-washing,” explains Dr. Aljadeff. “Parents should also clean and disinfect toys, blankets and other objects that babies are likely to touch.”