What has all the symptoms of a common cold (runny nose, cough, low-grade fever) but sends more babies to the hospital than any other condition? Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV for short! By the time most children reach the age of 2 they have been exposed to this common disease with few or no problems, other than a few days of discomfort of course. But for premature babies and people of all ages with lung, heart or immune systems problems, the virus can be life threatening.
What makes RSV so dangerous is how quickly it spreads from the nose or throat to the respiratory tract. Another danger is that a serious RSV infection in young children often leads later to asthma and allergies. Or perhaps a child who is at risk for asthma already may be at risk for a more serious RSV infection. Researchers and doctors don’t really know. It is a classic case of what comes first: the chicken or the egg.
Whichever it is, I can tell you from first hand experience it can be scary. Gracie had it twice both times leading to hospital stays. Her first episode was when she was only two weeks old. I have never been so scared in my life. It was my birthday and my husband had thrown a surprise party for me. I was hormonal, sleep deprived and not happy to have a bunch of people in my house with a newborn baby. I had excused myself to go upstairs and nurse the baby. Grace was extremely fussy and would not nurse. She seemed congested. After trying to suction her nose with nothing coming out, I asked my husband to kindly get rid of our guest as I was going to sit with her in the bathroom while the hot water ran in the shower with the hope that the steam would help her. No sooner had my husband walked back through the door after seeing the last person out I was grabbing the diaper back and car keys. The edges around Gracie’s mouth were turning blue. My baby was not able to breathe.
My husband stayed with Jay who was only 2 and half at the time while I went to the ER. The hospital was great and rushed us straight in when they saw how tiny she was. They immediately put her on oxygen and started doing test. They even had to put the IV in her head as she was so dehydrated they could not get a vein in her tiny little arms or legs. It was horrible.The test came back right away that is was RSV. They admitted her into the Neonatal ICU unit. There were large Infectious Disease signs all over the door to her room and everyone except me (as I was there with her constantly ) had to wear a mask. Bronchodilator medications were administered in an aerosol mist by a mask to open her airways. She had nasal prongs which supplied her with supplemental oxygen. She was also given anti-viral aerosol medication. She spent 3 days in ICU and then 2 days in the regular neonatal unit. It felt like months. We repeated the exact same thing when she was hospitalized for RSV when she was 15 months old. (Accept she was in the regular pediatric section then.)
About a month after the second RSV hospital stay Grace had what we soon learned an asthma attack. We were referred to a pediatric pulmonologist who confirmed the diagnosis right away and prescribed her a cabinet full of meds. As most moms of Asthmatic children will tell you, the hours between 2am-6am seem to be the worse which meant many a nights we were forced to take our sweet baby girl to the ER. We were there so often that we knew the staff on a first name basis. One day in fact I was at the movies with the kids when I heard my name being called. When I turned around it was the ER nurse. We had been to the hospital so many times that she recognized us outside of the hospital.
Fast forward to today. Grace is still has a cabinet full of meds. Thankfully we have learned how to control her attacks and knock on wood we have not had any ER visits because of it in some time. ( I pray I did not just jinx us!) she is now able to tell us when her chest hurts and she needs a treatment. We still are crossing our fingers that she will out grow this condition. It frustrates her when she cannot participate in something because it could trigger an attack. We still don’t know if her asthma was caused by the RSV or if the RSV affected her the way it did because she was already asthmatic. I guess it really does not matter at this point. I am just thankful we made it through those really tough days. There is nothing worse than seeing your baby (no matter how old they are) laying in a hospital bed and there is nothing you can do to make it better. I pray I never have to experience that again.