How to prevent RSV in babies

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), respiratory syncytial virus — also known as RSV — is the most common cause of lung infections in children younger than two. Symptoms of RSV in babies are similar to symptoms of other common infections like a cold or the flu, but might include a runny nose, a fever or a cough. Because of the similarities, RSV is easily mistaken for other illnesses.

The virus is easily contagious and premature infants (or those with chronic lung or heart disease) can develop dangerous RSV complications. Here’s what you need to know to prevent the virus from spreading.

Newborn baby

How is RSV spread?

The AAP advised that this particular virus can be spread many different ways. It can be transmitted by direct contact with fluids from the nose or mouth of any infected adult or child, or even by airborne droplets from breathing, coughing or sneezing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV can also live on hard surfaces such as toys, countertops, crib rails and door knobs for several hours. The virus is then spread through indirect contact.

How to avoid RSV

Because newborn babies do not have a very well-developed chest wall for coughing up mucus, their airways can clog easily — making them more susceptible to complications from RSV. The best piece of advice for avoiding the spread of RSV in babies, particularly newborns, is for everyone in the family to wash their hands often, especially when coming from school or daycare centers where the virus is easily spread.

The CDC advised that any caregivers, relatives or siblings wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds just before holding the baby. It’s also a good habit to regularly wipe down hard surfaces in the home.

Avoid visiting crowded areas such as shopping centers, elevators or airplanes with your newborn baby and be sure to keep them away from smokers. Don’t hold someone else’s newborn baby if you have any cold symptoms and don’t let anyone who is coughing or sneezing hold your baby, even if they insist that it’s “just allergies.”

Breastfeeding and immunity

You may be wondering if you should continue breastfeeding if you feel an illness coming on. The AAP advised that you continue breastfeeding even if you have a cold because this will supply your baby vital nourishment as well as protective antibodies that can boost their immunity.

While there is no vaccine for RSV, an antibody injection can be given to susceptible infants to reduce their specific risk. RSV is very common, and if your baby is affected, it’s not a cause for alarm. Consult with your pediatrician for the best possible treatment options.

Jennifer Bales, M.D., Reid Health emergency physician, also notes that it is very important to seek immediate care if a child experiences difficulty breathing, stops breathing or experiences blue discoloration of the face, lips or hands.

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