Right now Dayton Children’s is seeing increasing emergency room visits and admissions from a variety of respiratory illnesses. In the past month, more than 500 kids have tested positive for RSV, respiratory syncytial virus. In addition, more flu tests are also starting to come back positive than any time previous this year.
So as sickness spikes, what can parents do to stop it?
Almost all children get RSV at least once before the age of two. And while adults get it, too, it’s much easier on us. “If you and I get it, we get a cold,” says Sherman Alter, MD, medical director of the infectious disease department at Dayton Children’s. “But babies younger than the age of 1 year can also develop lower respiratory tract symptoms and develop a complication called bronchiolitis. These infants may have difficulty breathing and may breathe rapidly. Some of them may need to be hospitalized. It’s also a bigger problem for kids who have underlying health conditions.”
“RSV is highly contagious and there is no vaccine,” says Laura Hutchinson, pediatrician at the Children’s Health Clinic at Dayton Children’s and Dr. Mom Squad blogger. “It is spread through droplets that contain the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It can also live on surfaces such as countertops or doorknobs as well as on hands and clothing — so it can easily spread when a person touches something contaminated.”
That’s why it’s so important for all of us to do our part to keep our kids safe from sickness. “We call it respiratory etiquette,” says Dr. Alter. “Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, preferably with the inside of your elbow and not your hands. If you use a tissue, throw it away immediately. Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose. Stay home if you are sick. Don’t go to work or school.”
Since babies are especially vulnerable, parents should take extra precautions with them. Wash your hands often and ask anyone who is around your baby to do the same. Stay out of crowded spaces and away from anyone who is sick. Avoid tobacco smoke.
If your baby does get sick, see a doctor if you notice the following symptoms:
• Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
• Changes in eating or sleeping habits
• A high fever
• Change in alertness
• Any symptoms of distress.
As for the flu, there is still time to use the best weapon available. “The flu vaccine is a very good match this year,” says Dr. Alter. “The circulating viruses are the ones represented in the vaccine. While it takes two weeks for the vaccine to provide the best protection, it will help minimize the impact of influenza right after immunization. It is the most effective way to combat the flu.”
To prevent the flu, all infants and their contacts should be immunized against influenza beginning at 6 months of age. Additionally, immunization of a pregnant woman with flu vaccine may prevent her infant from acquiring the flu during the first few months of life.
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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.