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4 Questions to Ask Baby’s Doctor About RSV

RSV lung infection is the leading cause of hospitalization in babies under the age of one. Here’s what to ask at baby’s next appointment.
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Published January 24, 2024
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While viruses are certainly a part of life, there is one virus in particular to be wary of as a new parent: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). It is one of the most common childhood illnesses, with the infection occurring and passing in nearly 100% of children by the age of two. But while RSV is common, that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous—the virus is the leading cause of hospitalization in babies under the age of one and it can spread very easily, especially during RSV season from fall to mid-winter and through the spring. Got questions? Here are some things you may want to ask baby’s doctor.

“Anyone at any age” can contract RSV and develop symptoms, explains Rosey Olivero, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. And RSV is highly contagious. That means that the entire family—from newborns to the elderly—likely will come in contact with the virus this fall-spring RSV season.

However, Dr. Olivero explains that children in the first two years of life tend to have more severe cases of bronchiolitis, a complication from RSV. “Some infants carry much higher risk… of severe RSV, and those include babies born extremely prematurely, and those with significant heart and lung disease,” she notes. While any healthy infant can still face the risk of complications from RSV, Dr. Olivero also adds that anyone who is immunocompromised, including both children and adults, can also get severely ill.

RSV is particularly risky in younger babies because they have smaller lower airways than older children. And because their airways are so tiny, excess mucus from the infection can plug the airways, Dr. Olivero explains, making it very difficult for babies to breathe and exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.

According to the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of hospitalization in infants. If an infant is hospitalized with RSV lung infection, Dr. Olivero notes, they will most likely receive assistance with breathing and feeding support while in the hospital. “Some babies need to be supported by having a breathing tube placed and using a ventilator,” she adds. Occasionally, severe cases of RSV lung infection can be fatal, but Dr. Olivero explains that fortunately, in the US, deaths are relatively rare.

According to Dr. Olivero, RSV will start out looking like a regular cold in babies and kids. However, the main distinction between RSV and other viruses is that around day three of an infection, it can progress to a specific type of respiratory condition called bronchiolitis.

Bronchiolitis means inflammation in the small airways in the lungs and can cause symptoms in babies such as:

  • Very fast breathing
  • Labored breathing
  • Retractions (the pulling in of the skin between the ribs and above the clavicle with breathing)
  • Nostril flaring
  • A bluish color around your baby’s lips
  • Poor feeding

“Any of these symptoms should prompt parents to contact their pediatrician immediately,” says Dr. Olivero. She also adds that influenza (flu) infection can cause very similar symptoms as RSV lung infection but is less likely to lead to severe bronchiolitis. Still, whether you suspect the flu or RSV, call baby’s doctor or seek medical attention right away.

The FDA has approved a preventative antibody, nirsevimab (Beyfortus). Your baby’s doctor will let you know if they have Beyfortus available. Beyfortus may not protect all children.

Due to high demand, supplies of Beyfortus are limited for the 2023-2024 RSV season. Sanofi is working with the CDC to fairly distribute all remaining doses.

Other everyday measures to prevent RSV include:

  • washing your hands frequently
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home
  • avoiding close contact with anyone who has cold- or flu-like symptoms
  • covering your face when coughing or sneezing

INDICATION Beyfortus is a prescription medicine used to help prevent a serious lung disease caused by Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in: Newborns and babies under 1 year of age born during or entering their first RSV season. Children up to 24 months of age who remain at risk of severe RSV disease through their second RSV season.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION Your child should not take Beyfortus if your child has a history of serious allergic reactions to nirsevimab-alip or any of the ingredients in Beyfortus. Before your child receives Beyfortus, tell your healthcare provider about all of your child’s medical conditions, including if your child: has ever had a reaction to Beyfortus. has bleeding or bruising problems. If your child has a problem with bleeding or bruises easily, an injection could cause a problem.

Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines your child takes, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements. Your infant should not receive a medicine called palivizumab if they have already received Beyfortus in the same RSV season. Serious allergic reactions have happened with other medicines like Beyfortus. Get medical help right away if your child has any of the following signs or symptoms of a serious allergic reaction:

  • swelling of the face, mouth or tongue
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • unresponsiveness
  • bluish color of skin, lips or under fingernails
  • muscle weakness
  • severe rash, hives or itching

The most common side effects of Beyfortus include rash and pain, swelling or hardness at the site of your child’s injection. These are not all the possible side effects of Beyfortus. Call your healthcare provider if you have questions about side effects. Please see full Prescribing Information, including Patient Information, for more details.

MAT-US-2309088-v1.0-01/2024

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Rosey Olivero, M.D., has been a pediatric infectious disease physician at Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital since 2012 and loves working in such a collaborative environment where top-notch care of children is the top priority.

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