CHICAGO – They look so sweet and cuddly. You've been waiting to visit with the precious bundles. Unfortunately, illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – which is often mild for healthy adults – can be life-threatening for the tiniest babies.
Dr Ravi Jhaveri, an infectious disease physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, has a seemingly harsh warning this holiday season: do not kiss the baby this holiday season.
“It is possible that one contact is enough to transmit the virus. And babies are incredibly susceptible,” he said.
“The first time you see any virus or bacteria tends to be worse because your immune system is learning how to deal with it. And so your fever may be higher, your symptoms may be worse. And then the next time it happens, it’s much better because your immune system remembers ... that’s why older kids and adults only get cold symptoms when they get exposed again to RSV.”
Any child younger than 2 is at risk. Premature babies and those with compromised immune systems face an even greater threat. The biggest concern is RSV. An average of 57,000 children younger than 5 are hospitalized with RSV every year. And it can be deadly.
“RSV causes damage to airways, and so there is debris that collects,” Jhaveri said. “And a little baby has a really small airway. So you can imagine if it’s a little straw it doesn’t take much to block that straw.”
There is no vaccine for RSV like there is for the flu, but one is in the works that would potentially be given to pregnant women.
“The approach that’s being used and is promising in early research is the idea that women that are pregnant could get vaccinated the way that we do it for whooping cough,” Jhaveri said. “Every pregnant woman gets a whooping cough vaccine, and she can pass those antibodies to baby when he or she is born. So the same thing with RSV.”
So what can parents of young children do?
- Avoid all contact with sick people.
- Wash hands often.
- Avoid touching a child's face.
- Clean any potentially contaminated surfaces like doorknobs.
- Do not allow people to share drinks or utensils with infants and toddlers
- Don't let them kiss the baby
“We also advocate that we shouldn’t keep kids in a bubble, that social contact with family and close friends is a really rich part of their development, so we need to balance the two,” Jhaveri said.
Symptoms of RSV include wheezing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, congestion and fever.
When you can tell your baby is struggling to breathe, get them to a doctor right away.