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What to Know About RSV and the Flu

Author: Team NICU 101
Published Date: Tuesday, January 02, 2018

If your baby is leaving the NICU and going home over the winter months, remember it’s the season for cold, flu and RSV.

These winter viruses can make fragile babies very, very sick. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus. For an average healthy child, RSV is basically a cold resulting in a runny nose and fever. But this virus can make a premature baby very sick. 
  • Each year, 125,000 babies are hospitalized with RSV. If you go home during the winter season, be sure to call your doctor immediately if your baby has the following symptoms: coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing or gasping for breath. RSV symptoms worsen quickly and can be life-threatening.
  • When a premature baby contracts RSV during their first winter home, chances are good they will be re-hospitalized. RSV spreads quickly by physical contact (shaking hands or kissing an infected person) or even by simply being in the same room as someone who is coughing or sneezing. If you are exposed to RSV, you can pass the illness to others even if you have no symptoms.

One of the most important things you can do for your baby is to do your best to keep them healthy:

  • Have everyone wash hands thoroughly before touching or holding your baby, and use hand sanitizer often. Children are exposed to many contagious germs and spread them easily, so make a habit of having siblings wash their hands as soon as they come home from school or daycare. And, be sure they know how to use hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your baby away from crowds. No family reunions, parties, shopping malls, church nurseries or large daycare settings during your first winter home.
  • Keep people with colds away. Put a sign on your door asking friends to call before visiting so you can be sure they are not ill.
  • Do not smoke around your baby or allow smokers to hold your baby without properly washing hands and arms and putting on clean, smoke-free clothing. Smoke lingers on clothing and in hair and can disrupt your baby’s breathing. Please speak with your social worker if you would like additional information about the effects of smoke on premature babies.
  • There is a monthly RSV vaccine called Synagis available for at-risk babies. If your baby is in a high-risk group, they will receive a first dose of Synagis before discharge and follow-up doses from your pediatrician. Please speak with your baby’s doctor or nurse to find out if your baby qualifies for Synagis.
  • Finally, everyone in your home and anyone who will be caring for your baby should receive a flu shot. The flu, like RSV, can put your baby back in the hospital. Your baby is too small to receive a flu shot, but you can and should.

About Team NICU 101

CHKD is home to the region’s largest and most sophisticated neonatal intensive care unit, certified by the state as a subspecialty nursery. We provide intensive care for high-risk, critically-ill neonates and care for approximately 500 babies a year.